MOVIE BUFF-ET: Cars 3 not a classic but gets film series back on track

Disney / Pixar

For more than two decades, Pixar has been the gold standard in family-friendly entertainment.

From “Toy Story” to “Inside Out” and every other of the studio’s computer-generated animated classics in between, film buffs and families alike could count on the Pixar brand not only to entertain but also touch the hearts and teach the minds of kids from 8 to 80.

While some of Pixar’s films soar a higher than others, no brand has performed at a consistently high level. The studio’s never made a box-office flop; however, critics did single out 2010’s “Cars 2” as a qualitative misstep. The sequel veered off the nostalgic if not sentimental road traveled by Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) in the 2006 original, miscasting the character as the James Bond of the automobile set.

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Happily, I can report that the third film in the “Cars” series lines up much closer to the original, but compared to its sportier Pixar brethren, “Cars 3” finishes is the back third of the race.

That said, the flashy colors, slick animation, and numerous sight gags places the film near the top of the rest of the animated fare served up so far this year. The film is sure to please the 5- to-10-year-old set, while not boring their older siblings and parents.

The film is about Lightning transitioning from being a star into a mentor for burgeoning racer Cruz Ramirez (Christela Alonzo), who is talented but held back by her self doubt. By helping Cruz maximize her abilities, Lightning lifts himself out of the dumps and finds new purpose in life after his first love of racing is taken away.

Lightning’s nemesis in the film is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a black sports car that that leaves Lightning behind, racing at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour thanks to state-of-the-art racing and data-gathering technology. Trying to keep pace, Lightning wipes out in spectacular fashion, not only damaging his exterior but also his self-confidence.

While Lightning is attempting find his way in the film’s second act, he runs into to the familiar grills of Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy), Smokey (Chris Cooper), Mack (John Ratzenberger), and of course, Lightning’s girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt). We even hear from Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman) in flashbacks, thanks to unused audio recordings left over from the original movie.

“Car Talk” hosts Ray and Tom Magliozzi return to voice Dusty and Rusty, and a bevy of NASCAR racers and personalities lend their voices to the film, including Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., Darrell Waltrip, Shannon Spake, Humpy Wheeler, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Suárez, Kyle Petty, Mike Joy, Ray Evernham, and Richard Petty.

“Cars 3” is a solid kids film, but, no movie plays in a vacuum. The heights achieved by better Pixar films casts a long shadow that Lightning and his buddies fail to escape.

(G) 1 hr. 49 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner

“The Big Sleep”

Director Howard Hawks’ 1946 film noir “The Big Sleep” boasts a plot so convoluted yet entrancing that it’s not surprise author William Faulkner worked on it along with screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman.

Clarity isn’t important, though, with a film that exudes such mood, tone and attitude. The movie, based on Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel, became the template for scores of hard-boiled detectives who would take their cue from Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal on on-nonsense gumshoe Phillip Marlowe.

If Bogart’s performance is iconic for film private detectives, then Lauren Bacall is equally as memorable as the mysterious Vivian Rutledge, whom Marlowe can’t quite figure out.

While you could drive yourself crazy trying to follow the plot, Bogart and Bacall are a treat to watch, and their chemistry is absolutely palpable.

Though Bogart had been featured in films since the early 1930s, he only fully came into his own as an A-list star in the early 1940s. Here, Bogart is in his prime, and arguably no co-star brought out the best in Bogie like Bacall.

Likewise, Bacall went on to a long and distinguished career, but I’m not sure she was ever better than in her early films bouncing lines off her soon-to-be husband Bogart as she did in this film, as well as “To Have or Have Not,” and “Key Largo.”

Turner Classic Movies is showing “The Big Sleep” at 7 p.m. (CST) Saturday night as part of its “Essentials” series with Alec Baldwin and David Letterman.