Crusty old engines square off with young upstarts in 'Cars 3'

  • Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), left, defends his title against a leaner, meaner and younger upstart (Armie Hammer) in the generational comedy "Cars 3."

    Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), left, defends his title against a leaner, meaner and younger upstart (Armie Hammer) in the generational comedy "Cars 3."

 
 
Updated 6/14/2017 12:13 PM

Once upon a time, Pixar could be counted on to respect the intelligence of viewers, be they young, old or in-between, by not explaining every joke and reference with spoon-fed dialogue.

But it does in "Cars 3."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Once upon a time, Pixar carefully avoided using something as cliched and trite as Richard Strauss' famously overused sunrise fanfare from "2001: A Space Odyssey."

But it does in "Cars 3."

And once upon a time, Pixar -- creator of the "Toy Story" comedies, "Up," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille," "WALL-E," "Brave" and "Inside Out" -- would not have built an entire movie around a constant barrage of zingers and insults aimed at old age.

But it does in "Cars 3."

Back in 2006, the public loved the original "Cars" much more than the critics did. I suspect that will remain the same with "Cars 3," a vehicle that gets far less mileage out of far more race scenes.

Not that this second sequel, directed by former Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee, doesn't have its carburetor in the right place. You can bet that it will wind up on the AARP top-10 movie list for 2017.

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"Cars 3" drives a story about the challenges brought about by the aging process, and how important it is for the older models to mentor and encourage the up-and-coming models to win life's races on their own.

Lightning McQueen (again voiced with cornpone folksiness by Owen Wilson) returns as Rust-eze's champion speed demon, now beginning to feel the effects of high mileage on his operating systems.

A new generation of smart, aerodynamically advanced cars threatens the old timers' comfort zones, none more than Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a sleek, black, fuel-efficient contender who easily beats Lightning McQueen and throws him into a tailspin of insecurity.

Then, Rust-eze gets bought out by Sterling (Nathan Fillion), a sporty businesscar who wants McQueen to retire so his merchandising brand won't be dinged by certain future losses at the racetrack.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To get his moto-jo back, Lighting retreats to Radiator Springs where he basks in the support of his pal Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and tow-truck bud Mater (Larry the Cable Guy).

Lighting even receives flashback advice from his great mentor, the late Doc Hudson (Paul Newman, eulogized throughout this film as "Hud"), who's engine died and has been hauled off to that great junk yard in the sky.

To compete with Jackson Storm, Lightning quickly realizes he needs high-tech training from Sterling's super racing coach Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

Cruz strikes Lightning with inspirational taunts, such as making sure he gets a drip pan before stripping his gears.

"Drip pan?" Lightning says. "How old do you think I am?"

Fee, taking the driver's seat from director John Lasseter, demonstrates an admirable respect for these automotive characters, but allows them too much idling time.

Even with an abundance of full-throttle races (rendered in splendid, detailed animation), "Cars 3" doesn't travel all that fast for its 111-minutes, prompting some viewers to perhaps check the clock -- not in a good way.

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