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Thursday, June 22, 2017 12:04 am

Lightning strikes again in Cars 3

Lightning McQueen and Jackson Storm from Cars 3.


Having put the dismal second entry in the series in its rearview mirror, Pixar’s Cars franchise is once again back in the winner’s circle with its third chapter in the adventures of the ever-boyish NASCAR racer Lightning McQueen. Foregoing the sort of misguided adventure that prevented part deux from gaining any speed, director Brian Fee concentrates on what made the first part of the trilogy so memorable – the relationships between the characters. Loyalty as well as the importance of mentoring proves to be the driving force behind this tale of realizing when its time to take that final lap.

Grandparents and beleaguered moms and dads will be able to relate to the movie’s core message more readily than the youngsters it’s pitched to. Seems Lighting McQueen (voice by Owen Wilson) just ain’t the car he used to be. He feels great, looks great and thinks he has a lot of racing left in him. However, age is catching up to him. The wins don’t come as easy, and then, at all once, a new generation of high-tech racing machines – embodied by the arrogant hotshot Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) – start competing on the Piston Cup Circuit. After a horrific wreck, McQueen retreats to Radiator Springs to seek encouragement from his girl Sally (Bonnie Hunt), his best buddy Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and the rest of the denizens of this desert auto town.

McQueen’s decision to continue to race with a new sponsor and using modern training techniques will bring to mind any of the Rocky sequels in which our hero has to pick himself up and relearn his craft. Fee’s approach is quite clever, as Lightning finds himself adrift when having to use simulators to race, only to return to dirt racing and other basic forms of competition to get his wheels back under him.

The addition of training car Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), an eager-to-help, wannabe racer, and Smokey (Chris Cooper), an old bucket of bolts who serves as our hero’s new mentor, inject a dose of much-needed energy to the franchise, while flashback scenes involving Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) provide a poignant touchstone to the film’s roots. Fee nimbly straddles the line between the past and future to wonderful, entertaining effect.

The racing sequences are very impressive and may be a bit much for viewers under five years of age. Fee and his crew have created a sense of speed for this animated world that seems real enough to make us think we’re on the raceway ourselves. The visuals at play and the wall-shaking sound go a long way towards putting us in the driver’s seat as well as in McQueen’s shoes. These sequences plus a hilarious demolition derby scene show these modern animators and their computers working to the limits of their capabilities.

Racing aficionados in the crowd will appreciate Fee’s nod to the roots of stock car racing with the recreation of a moonshine run, while voice work by Richard and Kyle Petty, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip help validate the entire enterprise. And while thrills and laughs are aplenty, the film’s theme of finding pride in your accomplishments and knowing when to pass the torch is what resonates so effectively. Cars 3 reminds us that, at their best, the Pixar films have never really been made for kids, but for their elders who sometimes need a gentle reminder of how to go about their hurried lives.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

Reviews of Rough Night and 47 Meters Down can be found online in the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

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