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Back on track

Not just high-octane fun for kids this go-round, third Cars entry gains traction with adults with in-jokes, buffed-up plot

By DAN LYBARGER Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published June 16, 2017 at 1:50 a.m.


No. 95 Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) confronts his mortality and a young, faster rival Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) in Cars 3, only the second series of Pixar films — after Toy Story — to spawn two sequels.

River Scott (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Junior Moon (Junior Johnson), Smokey (Chris Cooper), Louise Nash (Margo Martindale) and Lightning McQueen (Owen Wils...

Cars 3

84 Cast: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Armie Hammer, Ray Magliozzi, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Lea DeLaria, Kerry Washington, Paul Newman

Director: Brian Fee

Rating: G

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Pixar's animated movies may be cute and earnest, but much of their appeal is that they tackle subjects that frustrate adults. Both Up and the Toy Story trilogy took issues of aging and mortality head on.

But the Cars movies have heretofore been strictly for the kids -- Cars and Cars 2 have justified the billions Disney paid to acquire the company from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs because toys based around the franchise fly off the shelves, but they're not as much fun as most of the other movies that have emerged from Emeryville. The story lines aren't as tightly crafted as those of the other Pixar movies, so they often bog down like a tractor in mud when they should be zooming like the vehicles at Daytona.

Cars 3 plays like an upgrade because the characters in the all-car universe act a little more like people. This time around racer Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is coming off a hot streak. But he now has two formidable opponents: a smug roadster named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) and Father Time.

Storm regularly hits 200 mph during competition, but McQueen simply can't accelerate to that point. After a crash, he lands a new sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion), and a determined new trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

While she might have a future as a yoga instructor if she were human, her hi-tech tools simply don't benefit McQueen as much as they do Storm. While McQueen has plenty of roar under his hood, his inability to beat the clock makes him wonder if he should simply find a dignified way to retire.

First-time director Brian Fee, who was an art director on several Pixar classics, repeats some of the pacing errors that marred the previous movies. Fortunately, he and a legion of other writers come up with lots of delightful automotive references that should please car enthusiasts. Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon provide voices, and the track footage is a terrific justification for wearing 3-D glasses.

For those who simply view cars as a way to get from A to B, some of Fee's enthusiasm rubs off, and there are several clever moments where the filmmakers let their imaginations go into overdrive. To teach them how to exploit openings less alert racers miss, old school crew chief Smokey (Chris Cooper) has McQueen and Ramirez dodge a stampede of tractors.

Naturally, these farm vehicles moo.

Most of the characters from the first film are back. Even the late Paul Newman has a poignant series of flashbacks. Fee and company seem to have a better idea of how to include the characters. In Cars 2, the amiable if not too bright tow truck Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) could be grating, but as a sidekick for McQueen, he's downright lovable.

Judging from the rumbling I heard at a Monday night screening, youngsters will probably want toys for the new characters. Grownups can enjoy the current story, but it might be more enjoyable to hear what sort of races the kids come up with for McQueen and Storm. Listening to my nephews making up things for their Pokemon to do was a lot more fun than watching the cartoon critters on TV.

MovieStyle on 06/16/2017

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