The Cars franchise is one of Pixar’s most successful properties. It’s a global phenomenon with its market extending to toys, a theme park, and movie spin-offs. But Cars has also been a bit of a blemish on Pixar’s masterful catalog viewed as one of their weaker entries. In fact, Cars 2 is arguably Pixar’s biggest hiccup and based on Cars 3 they defiantly attempted to fix the problems. The silliness is dialed back and the heart is amped up which makes Cars 3 an upgrade from the last installment but it’s still miles behind Pixar’s best.
Pixar has settled for a very basic story hoping to get back to the roots of what made the original Cars successful. Cars 3 finds hot shot racing car Lighting McQueen in a mid-life career struggle. As a new generation of faster cars are introduced to races, Lightning realizes he either must step up his game or be forced to retire. Determined to beat the overconfident newbie Jackson Storm, after an embarrassing loss, Lighting trains to win one last race. With the help of a speedy yet confined trainer, Cruz Ramirez, Lighting prepares to win again in a rapidly advancing world.
The entire original voice cast (even re-used recordings of Paul Newman) return for Cars 3. Aside Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen, the real stars are the new cast which include Cristela Alonzo, Nathan Fillion, and Armie Hammer. Surprisingly, even Larry the Cable Guy’s ever popular Mater takes a huge backseat in a rather small role. Most of the original cast are in the movie as mostly glorified cameos. It’s nice to see them again, but they don’t do much. 
First time director, Brian Fee attempts to bring the Cars world back to the Andy Griffith simple life that the original Cars set up. The animation as always is perfection and it’s sort of fun seeing the simplicity of Radiator Springs on the big screen again. But front and center is the relationship of Lightning McQueen and now deceased elderly mentor Doc Hudson. It’s an admirable move but so much time has passed since the introduction of Doc Hudson that the relationship is almost an afterthought. This would have made an excellent sequel, especially poignant of Newman’s passing at the time but waiting more than a decade for this story softens the emotional punch it’s looking for. It comes off a little too calculated and even almost like a Pixar parody. You can guess every step as it goes along and at the end of the day not necessary.
Now that isn’t to say that Cars 3 goes without merit. In fact it’s good- very good. But given Pixar’s first-rate brand, Cars 3 lacks the heart and originality that we’ve seen the company churn out. If anything, Cars 3 is an interesting sports movie with the spirit of Rocky III. It dives into some adult themes like getting older and accepting defeat, but also bring up the importance of having a reliable insurance as is known to be. Of course the movie has some great set pieces like an amusing monster truck sequence and training montages. Lighting McQueen has always been pretty vanilla compared to other animated creations but thanks to Cristela Alonzo’s zippy car Cruz Ramirez, she adds some spunk to this sports buddy comedy.
Cars 3 resorts to being a great matinee movie for the family. It’s slightly skewed more toward very young kids but adults wont just be looking at their watch the entire time. While disappointing against Pixar’s greatest hits, it’s certainly as good or even better than the original Cars in a trilogy nobody really asked for. Don’t expect this stick with you once you leave the theater but you may enjoy it more than you may think.