Cars, a rather sweet tale of the up-and-coming hotshot getting schooled by a gruff old master and together, the two of them reach the apex of their sport. It also turned out to be race fan Paul Newman's last film and I truly enjoyed the chemistry between Owen Wilson as the full of himself Lightning McQueen and Paul Newman as the Fabulous Hudson Hawk.
Now Cars 3, the third installment of the franchise is out and I'm pleased to report that it's well worth going to see. Newman's voice is still there in a couple of flashbacks and new characters are added. Interestingly, the film also has a bit of a "girl power" thread as Margo Martindale voices an old-time racing great named "Louise Nash," Kerry Washington is a numbers-crunching statistician named "Natalie Certain" and Cristela Alonzo shines as the trainer-racer named "Cruz Ramirez." Yes, the old standbys are here, including Larry the Cable Guy's Tow Mater, but the real story is about Lightning finding worth in himself even if he isn't the fastest car on the track anymore. One of the most poignant lines comes from Lightning's competitor Cal Weathers (who is voiced by Kyle Petty) who comments on his retirement by answering McQueen's question about how to know when it's time to quit, "The youngsters will let you know."
And that's the heart of the story - as a new generation of high-tech, computerized machines takes over the tracks from the "race 'em on Sunday, sell 'em on Monday" actual STOCK stock racing cars, is there room for the old ways? Suddenly, McQueen isn't the hotshot - instead he's the "elder statesman" and he doesn't like it one bit. Now he knows all too well how "Hud" felt. (Confession - referring to Newman's old-school character as "Hud" and McQueen as "Hud's boy" just made me happy. It's a lovely, subtle tribute.)
Nathan Fillion voices the future of sponsorship and branding and brings his own brand of smarmy capitalism to a film that (let's face it) will be heavy of the toys, clothing, and geegaws of the upcoming holiday season.
But best of all are the NASCAR cameos and little history lessons tucked in Cars 3. While NASCAR is usually viewed as a white redneck sport (with enough brand loyalty to make sponsors salivate), there's always been a little more diversity than you might expect. And that's one of the lessons of Cars 3 as well - if you can do the work, where you come from doesn't really matter much.
May we all learn that one.
Plus - be sure you get there in time to see "Lou," the short that plays before the main feature!