Cars 3 a sequel that takes a surprisingly different emotional detour
While it doesn't reinvent the steering wheel, Disney Pixar's Cars 3 strikes a pleasing balance between heartfelt sentiment, belly laughs and dazzling artistry, writes Damon Smith
SUCCESS and failure are two sides of the same shiny coin. To truly appreciate the exhilaration of winning, you also have to experience crushing disappointment and then muster the strength of character to try again, even if it ends in more pain.
As one turbo-charged character in director Brian Fee's well-oiled road movie proclaims: "You can use anything negative as fuel to push through to the positive."
The computer animation wizards at Disney Pixar have been blazing a trail to the positive since their wildly imaginative debut, Toy Story. This second sequel to the 2006 coming-of-age comedy Cars is unlikely to tarnish the studio's golden lustre, continuing the misadventures of anthropomorphised vehicles, who orbit championship racing car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson).
Themes of self-sacrifice and perseverance are pumped into the film's fuel tank, and are reflected in writer-director Dave Mullins's heartbreaking computer-animated short film, Lou, which precedes the main feature.
Three scriptwriters jump start what appears to be a conventional comeback story but take us on a surprisingly different emotional journey that leaves the boot unlocked for further instalments of the franchise.
Cars 3 begins in familiar territory with Lightning screeching to victory in the Piston Cup until cocksure rookie Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) steals his thunder.
"I can't believe I got to race Lightning McQueen in his farewell season!" arrogantly whoops Storm.
A high-speed collision wrecks Lightning's chances of retaining his crown and he retires to Radiator Springs in the company of tow truck Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) and his sweetheart Sally (Bonnie Hunt).
Fond memories of mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) compel Lightning to hit the comeback trail and he heads to the Rust-eze Racing Center owned by Sterling (Nathan Fillion), "the mud flap king of the eastern seaboard".
Sterling assigns trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to improve Lightning's speed and stamina.
"I call you my senior project," affectionately jokes Cruz.
With a pivotal race in Florida looming on the horizon, Lightning and Cruz forego last minute tweaks to track down Doc's revered mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper). En route, they take part in a mud-spattered demolition derby against school bus Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria) and learn priceless secrets from veteran cars River Scott (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and Louise 'Barnstormer' Nash (Margo Martindale).
Cars 3 is the most poignant film in the series, striking a pleasing balance between heartfelt sentiment, belly laughs and dazzling artistry. The quality of the animation is flawless, including pristine reflected surfaces in high-speed races and some cute visual gags.
Admittedly, director Fee and his team don't reinvent the steering wheel but they do manage to tinge even the most colour-saturated scenes with aching sadness and a wistful yearning for the simple pleasures of the past.
CARS 3 (U, 109 mins) Animation/Action/Drama/Comedy/Romance. Featuring the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Larry The Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Lea DeLaria, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Margo Martindale, Paul Newman. Director: Brian Fee