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“Get ready for what’s comin’. More speed, more horsepower. More of everything.”

Of all the films that Pixar Animation Studios has given us over the years, their Cars series is one that remains the least impressive of all. The first one barely managed to keep their winning streak alive. Its sequel turned out to be Pixar’s first real disappointment & remains their only critical failure to date, not to mention that it was a shockingly unoriginal film from the animation studio that had built its legacy by delivering one original, inventive & emotionally riveting tale after another.

With Cars, Pixar attempted to explore life through the eyes of automobiles after having done so before with toys, bugs, monsters, fishes & superheroes. But it was also their first effort that leaned more towards the younger audience than viewers of all ages. The animation was groundbreaking as expected but the story & characters weren’t interesting enough, and it certainly didn’t warrant a sequel. Cars 2 tried to spice things up by going rogue and it was a disaster, for it took the spotlight away from Lightning McQueen and focused more on a side character. Everything about it felt tiring & clichéd.

Although unnecessary just like its predecessor, with Cars 3, Pixar at least corrects the mistakes it made in the previous instalment by taking the story back to its roots, and adding an emotional depth & resonance that the series so far lacked. The film may still not rank amongst Pixar’s finest works but it is a much more focused effort that brings the franchise back on the road and is a poignant, nostalgic & fitting finale that brims with heartfelt warmth, and brings its leading character’s arc to a satisfying if not memorable conclusion.

The story concerns Lightning McQueen, now a racing legend, as he finds himself being overshadowed by an arrogant rookie who belongs to a new generation of racers that use cutting-edge tech to improve their racing performance. Fearing that he too will be forced to retire just like his fellow veterans have been, he sets out to prove to the world that he is still the best racer out there. But to get back into the game with a real chance at winning, he must learn new techniques and make several new adjustments in his methods to defeat his far advanced competitors.

Directed by Brian Fee, Cars 3 completely ignores the events that transpired in the second chapter (for a good reason) and features a much more grounded, uplifting & emotional story that finds our well-past-his-prime character yearning for the glory days of the past, and also covers themes such as accepting when it’s time to step aside, passing the baton & embracing the next phase of life, thus offering a story that not only appeals to children but grown ups as well. The humour maintains similarity to its predecessors, working in bits n pieces, but at least the plot is slightly more engaging & McQueen’s arc is somewhat compelling.

As always, the computer animation from Pixar is flawless. The photorealistic rendering of the race tracks and other locations carry a live-action feel. The set pieces are meticulously detailed and the new automobiles are fabulously designed. Camerawork is slick, sharp & sophisticated, even more so during the racing sequences. Editing offers quite an improvement compared to the last film and its 102 minutes runtime is finely paced, for the most part. Voice actors play their part well and don’t leave much to complain about. And last but not the least, Randy Newman’s score has a sentimental quality that is in tune with the film’s emotional tone.

On an overall scale, Cars 3 is a surprisingly well-made sequel that scores higher than initially anticipated and leaves the bitter aftertaste of its forgettable predecessor in the dust. It is almost as good as the first one, which isn’t saying much, but after the tragedy that was Cars 2, this third & hopefully final entry is a welcome respite that shows that Pixar isn’t afraid to step into the universe that dented its then-perfect filmography to rectify the errors and leave behind something better. And that’s one of the many reasons why it is the most revered filmmaking studio on the planet. An apt conclusion to Pixar’s most middle-of-the-road franchise, Cars 3 is no gem but it is an emotionally involving ride that’s better than expected, and steers past the horizon with its headlights in tact.

★★★

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