Review: Cars 3 – Slow Start, Fast Finish

Warning: Contains Spoilers

Let’s start with the animated short that appears before the movie, entitled Lou. I thought it was fantastic and one of the best shorts Disney has made to date.

It centers on a group of young children at school during recess and the character of ‘LOU’, who is made up of different components of items in the lost and found box. Lou’s main adversary is a bully, J.J., who terrorizes the other children and steals from them. Lou sets out to make things right and teach the bully a lesson and during the course of the short we find out that J.J. once lost something he considered precious because of a bully as well. Lou shows J.J. that he can be better instead of continuing the cycle of bullying and reunites J.J. with his beloved teddy bear at the end.

Cue the watery eyes, which is pretty common for a Disney short these days. It pulls on the heartstrings and is a great overall message in regards to the awfulness of bullying. I give Lou an A+

Cars 3 was directed by Brian Fee and I thought it was quite different than the first two movies in the franchise, even though this one has some familiar themes. We remember in the first Cars movie that Lightning McQueen meets one of his heroes Doc Hudson who is basically a washed up racer. Racers/Cars get older, technology changes, so on and so on, eventually someone quicker and better comes along. Enter, Lightning McQueen.

Well, time has passed, and things have changed. Lightning isn’t the best anymore. There is new competition out there on the racetrack. Jackson Storm is the next best thing, and McQueen losses to him early in the movie. In fact, more precision racers show up, and it proves to be too much for the veterans, so they start to retire. Determined to beat Jackson, McQueen ends up blowing a tire while racing, and crashes big time.

Meanwhile, Rust-eze has been sold to a fellow named Sterling, who is voiced by Nathan Fillion. He gives McQueen a new look as well as a trainer, Cruz Ramirez, voiced by Cristela Alonzo, who has a different, more technical style of training. Sterling gives McQueen one last shot at racing; otherwise he will just be the spokesperson for Rust-eze.

So, I have to say, up to this point I wasn’t very impressed with the movie. I found it to be a bit boring and unimaginative. I was still interested to see where it was going, but I figured McQueen would just get some new part or something and start winning and the movie would basically re-hash the plot of the first one. However, this is where I think the movie turns around.

Lightning takes Cruz out of the indoor training arena, away from her treadmills and virtual racing tracks, and back outside to train like he was used to. During their training sessions the teacher becomes the student, as Lightning begins to help Cruz learn how to race better so that she can keep up with him while he trains.

At one point, McQueen and Ramirez head to Thunder Hollow, which is an old dirt racetrack (This is probably my favorite scene from the movie). They think they’re entering a small race undercover just to practice against other cars but instead, our heroes find that they’ve stumbled into a demolition derby. When Cruz wins, she is ecstatic about getting a trophy and confides in Lightning McQueen that she once dreamed of becoming a racecar too.

Cruz tells him that she trained every day, even when everyone told her it was pointless, because she knew it was what she wanted to do. When she finally got her big chance, she saw how all the other cars looked and felt like she didn’t belong there and left. To me, this is an important scene that speaks to all of our fears of trying something new, being the newcomer, or being scared because you don’t feel like you belong.

One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie comes when the two head out to meet Doc Hudson’s old trainer, Smokey. This is when McQueen finds out that Doc loved training McQueen and was proud of him. Training McQueen gave Doc a purpose in the racing world again and as much as Doc loved racing, he loved seeing his protégé succeed just as much if not more.

Come race time, Lightning starts well, passing racers but can’t catch Storm. That’s when he realizes that there is another car with great potential that can catch Storm and he calls in Cruz to take his place in the race. She is nervous and slow coming out of the pit but McQueen coaches her on. As she gains confidence she quickly starts moving ahead of the racers. Jackson Storm tries to shatter her confidence but McQueen urges her on to a first place finish.

In the end, Cruz Ramirez is now a racer and Lightning McQueen is her new pit chief. Just because McQueen has been aged out does not meant that his racing career is over. In the end Doc managed to teach McQueen one final lesson.

So, this movie received a lot of bad reviews, which I find disappointing. Many complained that “McQueen is a quitter“ and “what kind of message does that send to kids?”  I could understand folks being slightly disappointed in the movie because there isn’t a lot of comedy or because the other main characters are barely in the movie, but that aside, this is a good movie.

I liked that it had a serious, meaningful message. Just because you look different than everyone else doesn’t mean you can’t be just as good. It also shows the true life cycle of an athlete. McQueen is not a quitter because he was getting older. If anything, it shows that it’s important not to let pride get in the way of reality.

Pride causes McQueen to suffer his huge crash at the beginning of the movie and he finally realizes that instead of battling reality he could pass the torch on and help train the next upcoming star. Instead of being forced out, he is able to transition from racer to pit chief on his own terms.

With that being said, I think Cars 3 was a good installment in the franchise and showed some positive life lessons. It showed that everyone should pursue their dreams no matter who they are.

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