'Cars 3' lacks the drive of previous entries

Cars 3 (Pixar/Disney)

Every time I write a review of a Pixar movie I hit up YouTube to watch clips from the older movies the company has made. It is a form of procrastination, but the clips do result in some inspiration from the wonders the company has produced over the years, or at the least cause me to sob uncontrollably (the opening to Up always gets me). Unfortunately, it's beginning to serve more of a trip down memory lane for when Pixar made great movies. Aside from the wonderful Inside Out , Pixar hasn't made a movie that qualifies as pretty good in about five years. Based on Cars 3 , it's becoming more and more common to see exceptional movies like Inside Out be outliers, not standards.

To state it early on, Cars 3 is not a bad movie. The animation remains top notch, the racing scenes are effectively cool and engaging, and just enough of the jokes land to result in a few chuckles from kids in the audience. That, though, isn't Pixar. The company makes legendary animated movies that hit the soul like a hammer or captivate viewers with their sense of humor and great characters. At least, that's how it was for a rather long time. Then Cars came out and started to muddy Pixar's reputation. A wave of sequels to other movies started to drizzle out, some to fantastic ( Toy Story 3 ), a couple to middling ( Finding Dory ) and at least one to dreadful ( Cars 2 ) results. What's left now is the blend of the two, a third Cars movie a step below Finding Dory and mediocre enough to ask if Pixar has anything left in the tank.

What ultimately sinks Cars 3 is cynicism. This movie is designed to be a cash grab, offering little underneath the glossy patina to digest, or at least remember. Most movies are created to earn some level of profit - whether it be box office sales or merchandise - yet it remains disheartening how much of the focus for this movie is on the toys it'll sell in lieu of telling a solid, satisfactory story. It's particularly weird for this movie considering how much Lightning McQueen (voiced again by Owen Wilson) complains about becoming an empty mascot with little redeeming value beyond a brand name, protesting against the fate of his character in real life to no effect. The continued existence of the Larry the Cable Guy voiced Mater is proof enough that profit outshines creative ambition.

The push away from being a corporate shill is one of many, many messages a person could take out of Cars 3 . That the writers undercut that a bit by also praising certain products featuring Lightning McQueen fits the loose moral center that guides this movie. The whole movie has this loose vibe, with plots that don't go far enough to justify audience engagement or interest. It doesn't really matter that Lightning is intimidated by the fast new racer (Armie Hammer), or annoyed by the young trainer (Cristela Alonzo) who failed at her one shot at being a racer, or seeks life advice from the wise old truck (Chris Cooper) that taught his mentor, or discomfited by the materialistic company owner (Nathan Fillion). None of these plots are fleshed out enough to be interesting in and of themselves, and throwing them all together succeeds only at pushing the run time beyond any level of justification. The only theme that is tracked from beginning to end is McQueen's fear of getting old, which spurs him to try new training methods before giving up and reverting back to what he did before to spite the Moneyball-esque analysis that has apparently taken the love out of the sport.

What it adds up to is Trouble with the Curve mixed with Rocky IV mixed again with whatever racing movie or even feel good sports movie filled with cliches easily anticipated twists you've ever seen. Cars 3 is remarkable for its narrative laziness, and it's just boring watching Cars 3 because the expectations are planted early on and the big twists foretold with little subtlety. Even the themes are outlined blatantly by some awkwardly obvious song choices and bits of clunky expositional dialog. And, honestly, what's the point of watching a movie like this if it doesn't offer anything that hasn't already been done before? It'll keep the kids moderately entertained for nearly two hours, but that's the expectation for movies from lesser studios like Illumination, not one as great as Pixar.

Reviewer's Take: Three out of Five Stars

Ask Away Target audience: Kids for sure, and along with parents trying to keep their kids occupied for nearly two hours.

Take the whole family? Nothing too scary or intimidating about this one. Aside from a far too long run time, this is fine for all ages.

Theater or Netflix? Matinee if you must.

How's the short film? Really quite charming, if a little strange. Called Lou , the short about a sentient collect of lost and found items that sort of torments a child to be decent is sweet in its own way and often pretty funny. At the least it is far more interesting than the featured attraction.

Watch this as well: Pick just about any Pixar movie unrelated to the Cars franchise and you'll get some entertainment out of it (along with lots upon lots of tears). For adults, this movie has a lot of parallels to the very strange but fun Will Ferrell racing flick Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby .

Rating: G

Run time: 109 minutes

Genre: Animated