The Bock’s Office: Pixar back on track with ‘Cars 3’
A drastic left turn several years ago put one of the top animation studios on a questionable path, but “Cars 3” shows good things can happen with the right people behind the wheel.
Compared to his early days on the circuit, racecar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is a far more rounded athlete. No longer the self-centered hotshot of the speedway, he’s learned to be a gracious winner and accepts defeat as a motivation to improve.
But, that was before the addition of a new racer on the track — Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a souped-up speed demon superior to every other car in technology and just the first of many in a line of autos ready to change the sport forever.
Lightning’s attempts to keep up with the next generation results in a crash and burn that puts him out of racing temporarily unsure if he wants to return.
Though he’s convinced by his friends to get back into the mix, a new sponsor (Nathan Fillion) with high expectations and a personal trainer (Cristela Alonzo) who thinks he’s over the hill have Lightning thinking maybe retirement is inevitable.
The cockiness in Wilson’s voice that made him hard to resist 11 years ago is put in check as a racer whose personal performance is just as good as ever only to be lapped by the younger crowd, filling him with the self-doubt of middle age. Of course, it doesn’t help when everyone around him is reminding him he ain’t what he used to be.
While not much of a villain per se, Hammer makes for the kind of antagonist you can’t help but hate, Storm a state-of-the-art car who doesn’t hesitate to talk down to the older models who come in behind him at the finish line.
But, ol’ Lightning still has plenty of support in his corner, namely from girlfriend (Bonnie Hunt) and best buddy Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), but also from Alonzo’s Cruz Ramirez, a fitness instructor thrilled to start a “senior project” — ouch — with a regimen that offers little time on the track in lieu of 90 percent visualization and simulation.
Since when do cars actually need to put their tires on asphalt, anyway?
This smart nod to a shift in society that values youth over experience is enough to put the third part of the trilogy over the Pixar low point that was “Cars 2,” but besides a more mature story and characters — a little Mater goes a long way — there’s a greater representation of the spirit of racing than any moment of the series or the spin-off “Planes,” as long as you don’t think too much about the mechanics of a world inhabited by cars.
It’s fully loaded with NASCAR cameos, yes, but it’s Lightning’s quest to rediscover his capabilities that brings him to the dusty tracks and back trails of Appalachia, as well as a demolition derby for the ages. Nothing like a psychotic school bus bearing down on you to get your motor mojo back in gear.
The superior animation that was prominent in the first “Cars” is on display again, emphasizing both the beauty of stillness before a race and the fast-paced action, showing that for all the bells and whistles, what’s under the hood still counts.
Uh, that’s heart, not an engine…
Just as “Finding Dory” showed last summer, Pixar can make sequels work as well as their predecessors, or in the instance of “Cars 3,” better still.
By the way, did we mention Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson lives on through the magic of flashback and unused recordings?
As summer heats up it was so nice to have a few weeks with rain in the forecast almost daily.