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Pixar takes a victory lap with “Cars 3”

Prior to Pixar’s release of Cars back in 2006 the animation studio has been continually breaking new ground with the stories and techniques used in their specific brand of animation. When The Incredibles came out in 2004 it seemed that the studio had reached its zenith, so when it was announced that Cars was coming out there was a lot of thought that Pixar would be taking several steps backwards. Instead they gave a very successful movie that was all about heart, family, and a place to call home. Because of that it was absolutely natural that Disney would want for Pixar to create a new film for the franchise, so in 2011 they released Cars 2, which sadly suffered from some loss of vision, specifically in the formula that made the first film so commercially successful. Nonetheless Pixar had many other films they were releasing so it wasn’t as if the studio was hurting. Still, perhaps in a chance to seek redemption after taking a bad fall, and to prove that they are still worthy to stand alongside the other big studios with the content they create, writers Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell and Jonathon E. Stewart went back to the basics in an effort to produce another film that might resonate with audiences as well as the first movie did.

The premise for this movie is quite simple. What does a top athlete do when he slips out of his prime while a hotter, younger talent suddenly emerges on to the scene? This is the question that plagues our star car, Lightning McQueen, after a new surprising rookie emerges, forcing McQueen to re-evaluate his life situation.

There is nothing about this plot that I wasn’t aware of prior to seeing this movie. It had been talked about, and even a trailer was released about a month prior to the first screenings of this film, so it didn’t surprise me that the studio would go down this road. What I didn’t expect was some of the turns it would take.

Probably the chief element that studio creative executive, John Lasseter, has always pushed is story. If there is no story, then it doesn’t matter how spectacular the animation may be, the movie will be a dud. So when the writers approached this story they found ways to keep it fresh by not only introducing interesting settings, but interesting characters as well. Of course we get the reunion of the “old gang” with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), Sally (Bonnie Hunt), Ramone (Cheech Marin), Mack (John Ratzenberger), and everybody’s favorite tow truck, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). However the movie delights us with some interesting new characters, such as McQueen’s new arch-nemesis Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), McQueen’s new “boss,” Sterling (played by the smooth, yet smarmy sounding Nathan Fillion), as well as McQueen’s new trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

As McQueen strives to find new ways to end up on top of his game again, new layers are peeled away as we see some of Cruz’s deepest desires that help to shape both the story and McQueen’s realization of all that life may have to offer him as a career racer. However, the biggest thrill of all came in the form of the venerable Doc Hudson, voiced by Paul Newman, who had recorded some additional dialogue before his passing that was yet to be used prior to the release of this film. And while Doc Hudson’s actual participation in this film is relegated to mostly flashbacks, his “spirit” is felt in such a deeply profound way that it did honor to the legacy and memory of the late Paul Newman, as well as bring tears to the eyes of both of the TG Geeks.

This is a movie that has all of the heart that makes Pixar films so unbelievably successful. They create characters that find ways to resonate with the audience, even if those characters are nothing more than animated automobiles. They have found a way to take characters that were established 11 years ago, and yet give them a very believable story arc, including that of Doc Hudson, as we learn more about his character through the memories of McQueen, and those of Doc’s old coach, Smokey (Chris Cooper). This is a film that is filled with good laughter, as well as some good life lessons about success, and even failure. That is why it is with great delight that I say how much I truly loved Cars 3! Well done Pixar! Now go take your victory lap. You deserve it!!!

I give Cars 3 5 out of 5 Piston Cups!
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