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'Cars 3': It Thinks it Can, It Thinks it Can
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires film critic
01:27PM / Friday, June 23, 2017
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Point of disclosure: I am a lifelong, died-in-the-wool car enthusiast. As a child I spent endless hours on the floor pushing toy cars around, speeding under the kitchen table, through my mother's legs, around the linoleum perimeter, over the saddle leading to the foyer for the long straight to my bedroom. There, circling to the cheers of my other toys, I issued an acknowledging "zoom, zoom, rhoom, rhoom," then scooted back into the hallway and made a hairpin right into the carpeted living room, the off-road part of my imaginary Indy 500.
 
Thus I know and embrace firsthand the special, magical relationship some of us humans have with the spiritual successor to Old Dobbin, the horseless carriage. My knees no longer scuffed, I have now transferred the energy formerly spent on the floor to attending car shows, automobile museums and an occasional race. I also read the car mags, talk up the hobby with kindred spirits whenever opportune, and, alas, engage in that never-ending search for an honest mechanic. So I here note that I bring a prejudice to this review, and it's a double-edged sword.
 
On the one hand, as my analogous zealots, most notably golfers and fishermen, say, even a bad day at our avocation is better than a good day at work. But while the quite convivial "Cars 3," the wrap-up of car aficionado/animator/producer John Lasseter's trilogy, won't make you wish you were back at work, you will pine for the inventiveness of issue No. 1. Although we've come a long, artistic and intellectual way from the "Little Engine That Could," ostensibly the moralistic granddad to this series, director Brian Fee and a garage-full of writers have run out of creative gas.
 
The initial, wonderfully clever film breathed novel, supercharged life into the whole idea of auto anthropomorphism by combining a stellar script full of ingeniously loveable personification with cutting-edge animation. What's more, the detail and savvy insofar as things automotive is concerned transcended mere, cartoony application in what was essentially a colorful, near poetic ode to the steel, glass and rubber that has so captured our imagination.
 
Fact is, we are by now jaded. Fair or not, "Cars 3" suffers the fate of the younger sibling of a very bright student tasked with impressing teachers still smitten with the older offspring. Call us fickle. But as inevitably occurs in the real automotive world after being wowed by a breakthrough model, we are disappointed the following year when it appears that all the manufacturer has done is add some fins. It's obvious that in the retooling of this saga with familiar, off-the- shelf parts, the original inspiration was misplaced somewhere in the factory.
 
Still, the life lesson no self-respecting kiddie flick can roll off the assembly line without is standard equipment. Oddly though, perhaps because the filmmakers knew this script didn't possess the natural crossover appeal of its celebrated precursor, its message about life's passages and the changes we must make along the way seems slapped on to ameliorate that shortcoming.
 
So, while Dad may see the wisdom in the encouraging sermon to those who have lost employment, and therefore identity, to technology, that might be a big yawn for little Parker.
 
You see, Lightning McQueen, the once upstart, racetrack phenom voiced by Owen Wilson, has graduated to senior member of the Piston Cup circuit. All of which is a polite way of saying that now, instead of glimpsing the young and fast newcomer, Jackson Storm, in his rearview mirror, he's seeing the latest boy wonder's taillights through the windshield. What's a shiny red racecar to do? But have no fear, concerned parent or guardian. Disney isn't about to bum out your kid.
 
It's Sally Carrera, Lightning's attorney-girlfriend, to the rescue.
 
Suffice it to note that, considering what we witness here insofar as her ability to promote workforce morale, the current administration would do well to make this yellow Porsche its secretary of labor. We've already seen much more cartoonish appointments. In any case, counseling the down-in-the-grill speedster with help from the Runyonesque crew of supportive sheet metal that makes Radiator Springs animation's answer to hot rod-innovating Bakersfield, Calif., Sally's therapeutic strategy takes her beau for a moral-teaching ride down memory lane.
 
It's all sweet, nice and good-natured, replete with the signature bevy of car-related plays-on-words sure to tickle the fancies of gearhead, general viewer and astute child alike. Plus the razzle-dazzle race scenes, including one stunning, action-packed segment where our boy navigates a harrowing demolition derby, supplies a colorful excitement quotient. However, in recycling last year's model with only a few new accessories, "Cars 3" doesn't rate the checkered flag, suggesting this movie pit stop would best be postponed until Lightning cruises onto DVD.
 
"Cars 3," rated G, is a Walt Disney Studios release directed by Brian Fee and stars the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo and Chris Cooper. Running time: 109 minutes
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