Cars 3 [rating=4]

When Pixar released Cars in 2006, the film captured the hearts of many – but the critics not so much. This came as a surprise as the film ended what was considered to be Pixar’s perfect streak of unique and acclaimed films, something that continued after Cars with Ratatouille, Wall-E, UP and Toy Story 3. Many critics believed Cars to be more of a marketing strategy to sell toys than any of their other films before it (even Toy Story) rather than having a well thought storyline and well developed characters. In 2011 audiences were shown Cars 2, an espionage centred sequel which was poorly received and is generally considered Pixar’s weakest film to date, mainly because it focused almost entirely on marmite sidekick Tow Mater.

Cars 3 is helmed by first time director Brian Fee, a veteran Pixar animator and storyboard artist who takes the series back to it’s roots as it steers away from lacklustre spy capers and back to venturing the open road. The two main focuses throughout the film are Lightning McQueen’s coming to terms with no longer being the fastest race car on the circuit and his relationship with his new trainer, the overly-enthusiastic Cruz Ramirez who is tasked with helping him reach his top speed in order to stand a chance against the new generation of racers.

After a successful career as a rookie sensation, the world famous Lightning McQueen is still at the top of his game. The years have been kind to the Rust-eze racer as he has matured into a good-natured competitor who has learned to race for the fun of the sport and not just the win. But while Lightning has come to enjoy simply competing alongside his friends from rival sponsors, it becomes apparent that he and his friends are being pushed from the sport they love by a new generation of high-tech racers, some with the cockiness he once had as a rookie.

What follows in Cars 3 is a touching tale as Lightning McQueen comes to terms with his own ageing out of the top of the sport. Parallels with the original film are clear, this time with Lightning taking the role of defending champion played by The King in the original, and Jackson Storm as the cocky young upstart, with speed to spare. The big difference is this time we see the story from the point of view of the ageing champion struggling with his own time at the top coming to an end.

As Lightning begins to train alongside Cruz (who absolutely steals the show) we meet various racing legends from his late mentor Doc Hudson’s past. It is from these characters that we really get to the emotional core of Cars 3 as we learn more about the legend’s career ending crash and just how much his final days with Lightning truly meant to the former champion. To add even more emotional weight, the Pixar team used old voice recordings from the late Paul Newman that were never used in the first film to voice the Hudson Hornet in flashbacks. Yeah, I was misty eyed in Cars 3. Not something I at all expected but was relieved by the shift in direction from the gag-heavy Cars 2. While the third entry has a lot of heart there’s plenty of humour in it too, just the right amount this time around.

Cars 3 is a return to form for the series that introduces a load of great new characters, heart, and humour while also filling in some blanks between the first and third films – something that fans will be pleased to hear after the disappointment of the second film. I couldn’t recommend this film highly enough and believe any fans of the series will find this the sequel that they always hoped for.

Animation, Sport | USA, 2017 | U | 14th July 2017 | Walt Disney Pictures | Dir.Brian Fee