A classic Pixar franchise roars down the home stretch with ‘Cars 3’

Cars 3 (2016)

Directed by Brian Fee

If you were lucky enough not to see “Cars 2” when it released six years ago, “Cars 3” would make for an even better swan song to the “Cars” franchise, which revved into theaters eleven years ago. “Cars” + time = an incredible “Cars 3.” Throw “Cars 2” in there and, well, the latest installment loses some oomph.

“Cars 3” sees Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) as a washed-up veteran in a sport that’s quickly being taken over by high-tech speed machines like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), whose recent hot streak has ruined Lightning’s once-unshakable morale. Lightning is sent to a state-of-the-art training facility, but his personal trainer, the peppy Cruz (Cristela Alonzo), is interested in new-school training techniques that rub Lightning the wrong way. So to make his comeback, he tries to get back to his roots. Can Lightning strike twice?

“Cars 3” presents a more mature alternative to the childish “Cars 2,” which may be Pixar’s least respectable outing to date. The racing scenes are more frequent, more realistic, and more perilous. Both kids and their parents will find themselves on the edge of their seats when these cars are racing. You feel nervous, and you root hard for your favorite racecar. It helps that Pixar employs a more hyperreal animation, like we saw in the gorgeous (if flawed) “The Good Dinosaur.” It comes as no surprise, but “Cars 3” also has the standout vocal talent to keep the story rolling with humor and heart.

“Cars 3” is a charming, reinvigorating final lap (maybe) to a franchise that might go down as children’s classic, if we can conveniently forget “Cars 2.” Pixar has done better, to be sure, but few other animation studios can even hope to compete with “Cars 3.”

7.5/10

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