Film Review: Cars 3 (USA, 2017) is a near-perfect return for the franchise

It has finally arrived! After the teaser trailer that saw Lightning McQueen being absolutely annihilated on the racetrack months ago, we were all left wondering exactly where the Cars franchise had taken us with this all new installment, especially after the disappointing Cars 2 and Disney’s attempt at making it a broader universe with the lacklustre Planes.

Thankfully, Cars 3 serves as a fine example of how you bring a franchise back. The film enjoys the same kind of wonderful reminisce that Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 3 left us with, trying to say goodbye and thank you to a generation of viewers (we are all adults now), by laying a shiny coat of paint over what was once old and making it new again for today’s younger audience.

Director Brian Fee takes the racing line this time around and we are given the tale of Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) downfall from the racetrack, becoming too slow to keep up with the new fancy racing engines and the shiny sleek designs. Should Lightning retire before he completely makes a fool of himself, or should he train harder and keep up with the next generation or racers and show everyone that the Rust Eze brand isn’t just a one-track record?

We are guided through a series of events that show Lightning how to become better as he trains in a high-tech racing centre: wind tunnels, treadmills, virtual reality and simulator tracks are all here at Lightning’s wheels. It is a visual feast but also, at the same time, it emits a sense that things can just get on top of all of us with technologically advanced systems, social media and communications if we don’t try to keep up. It works so well on screen because it is all so relevant to the audience this time around.

Some crazy new characters are welcomed in Cars 3 and unlike the sequel we shall no longer speak of, these characters are quite instantly memorable. The new car Cruz Ramirez is voiced by Cristela Alonzo and becomes the very foundation Lightning needs to get where he needs to go. Not only does Cruz show a form of tough love towards Lightning as she trains him to become better, but Cruz begins to find herself and she begins to realise there is more to life than just standing behind a race monitor. This is as much Cruz’s story as it is Lightning’s; a trainer who gave up racing before she even began, due to how different she looked and felt when she was younger.

Of course, it is not a Cars film if we don’t see the return of beloved classic characters such as Mater (still voiced by the lovable Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and we are treated to some backstory and flashback sequences with the lovable old gruff Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman). Luigi and Guido join Lightning on his road trip along the length of the film also, which is great, bringing that little bit of nostalgia along for the ride and for the most part, not one character falters here; a rarity for an ensemble piece.

Without spoiling too much, one of the best sequences in the entire series so far takes place in a Destruction Derby arena where we are introduced to Miss Fritter (voiced by Orange if the New Black’s Lea Delaria), the quick and frantic pace at which our heroes are thrown into a death battle is thrilling to watch as well as it is to listen to Miss Fritter, the nose pierced, loud and eccentric school bus who delivers in every way.

One of my only gripes is Nathan Fillion’s character Sterling. To begin with he seems to come across as a true fan of Lightning with a lot of heart and brings Lightning in after buying RustEze and giving it a new polish. This is where the training centre is situated and it’s Sterling who buys all the expensive gear to help him along.

The downside is how fast things turn sour, almost turning Sterling into the villain of the piece before quickly making a U-turn in the third act. I found it a bit too distracting and quite frankly a waste of a good character. We already have a villain in the film by the name of Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), the new race car with an attitude and a highly keen wit that’s all about himself, so much so it can be a little on the nose, but at least Storm sort of has a reason for it: he wants to win!

A nice surprise towards the end also makes Cars 3 another worthy addition to the Disney Pixar franchise and to the strong female film roster this season! It’s a damn near perfect return of our beloved Cars characters we have all grown up with.

One more thing this film brings to the track is the ability to make me feel older than I am… oh wait, maybe I am? Either way, the knack Cars 3 has of reminding Lightning and the viewers how old we all are, make it work so much better than I expected it to, and it sure makes getting old feel worthwhile. After all, as one of the characters in Cars 3 claims “Life’s a Beach and then you Drive”.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Cars 3 hits Australian cinemas June 22nd, with select advance screenings this weekend.