For all the Pixar series that have come out, there’s no doubt “Cars” is at the bottom of list. And for the life of me, I have no idea why. Virtually every boy under the age of 12 has adored this series for years and yet it never seems to get the love a “Toy Story” gets. I should know as both my sons couldn’t wait to see this film. But, the numbers don’t lie as the $53.5 million it brought in this past weekend was a good $7-13 million less than what its predecessors did for their opening. For what I think might have been the best film of the three, that’s surprising yet predictable when you really study the history. So it will be interesting to see what happens as it moves forward into the next month or so. Then again, considering this franchise has probably made more in merchandise sales than actual box office sales, maybe it doesn’t even matter.
Even though the average 8-year-old will never say one film was better than the other, I think we all can agree that “Cars 2” fell short of expectations. It was missing something and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what. But after watching “Cars 3,” I figured out what was missing. It was “heart,” meaning the story was just a story and never really spoke to you the way the original and now this third installment does. That’s big and why I think if critics are being honest, they will give “Cars 3” a bit more love. Quite frankly it deserves it after bringing Lightning McQueen full circle in his career and life. Yup, even cars can learn when it’s time to “let-go” and give someone else a shot, the same they were once given. While predictable, what I liked about this story is how easy it was to relate to and how fun all the new characters were. That’s important and sometimes all you need to succeed. Let’s face it, with all the money getting pumped into Hollywood these days, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important for a series like this. So it was good we had new characters like Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer), the new hot-shot driver taking over the circuit and Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo), a proven unknown ready to show everyone what she was made if. It allowed for a nice balance of new and old, given we still had the likes of Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (voiced by Sally Hunt) and Mack (voiced by John Ratzenberger) to name a few.
The cast for animated films always seem to be rather star-studded and “Cars 3” is no different. Outside of the aforementioned series regulars, who once again did their parts to a ‘T,’ the newcomers really made their marks. I liked the cockiness that Armie Hammer brought to Jackson Storm while Cristela Alonzo brought a certain naïve confidence to Cruz Ramirez. As the main two opposite to Lightning McQueen, they each were able to play off Owen Wilson like they have done it before. In fact, I might have enjoyed the back and forth between Storm and McQueen more than what we saw with Mcqueen and Chick Hicks in the original. But, possibly the one newcomer that really grabbed me the most was Smokey, played by the savvy Chris Cooper. As Doc Hudson’s former mechanic and crew chief, Cooper’s Smokey was able to take you back into the days when Doc was younger and tie his story to McQueen’s. It was a little eerie given Doc’s history, but absolutely worthwhile to watch while he was training McQueen at Hudson Hornet’s old stomping grounds in Thomasville. I loved it and really credit Cooper for bringing that role into the forefront, helping propel this film into what it was.
With so much garbage hitting the big screen these days, it’s nice to have a good old-fashioned wholesome story to enjoy. It might not sell as many tickets as other animated features’, but it carries twice as much heart which to me is great for kids to experience. All too often we get caught up with the latest and greatest things for our kids and fail to show them stories like this. So kudos to the writers and director Brian Fee for getting it right. They were able to bring this series back to what made it so loved to begin with. Figure, with the near flawless animation Pixar produces these days, it will come down to the story and flow for me anyway. It might not seem like it matters, but Pixar has its way of tailoring their films to both kids and adults, which I respect. I think it sets them apart from say a DreamWorks Animation who really just care about the bottom line and making people laugh. Both ideals work; I just prefer Pixar’s and I think for a while there they lost their way. So I’m glad they are back to what put them at the top of the mountain and look forward to seeing what they did with their next project “Coco” which is set to be released sometime this Fall.