PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- It is, in a way, the ultimate CAR-toon. And it's back for a third lap.
Cars 3 extends the animated Cars franchise in the hopes of driving off with the hearts and minds of viewers young and old.
And if this second sequel doesn't attract lots of newcomers to the genre, it should at least please those already in the fold.
With 2006's Cars and 2011's Cars 2, both high-octane and high-decibel, the franchise established its credentials not only for technical razzle-dazzle -- which we quickly found ourselves taking for granted – but also for insightful and nostalgic insights into the life we were now leaving behind.
Like its predecessors, Cars 3 is fascinatingly anthropomorphic, and features pulse-pounding action/race scenes, along with painstaking attention to detail, honest sentiment and poignancy, and family-friendly humor.
Owen Wilson returns as the voice of Lightning McQueen, who hopes to prove to a new generation of racers that he's still the world's best race car.
After Lightning loses his racing title to Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), now officially the fastest car ever, and endures a terrible car crash, many among the new generation of high-tech racers question whether Lightning will ever race again and thus expect that he will instead retire.
But Lightning's sponsor, Rust-eze, is bought by Nathan Fillion's Mr. Sterling, who wants to turn Lightning into a racing brand.
So Lightning asks for the chance to race in the Florida 500.
Given permission, Lightning begins intense training with race technician Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who has racing dreams of her own.
Debuting director Brian Fee, a veteran animation artist, also contributed the story that he co-wrote with Ben Queen, Eyal Podell, and Jonathan E. Stewart from which Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, and Mike Rich fashioned the screenplay, employing heart, humor, and folk wisdom in its thoughtful exploration of, among other things, graceful aging and finding one's place in the world.
You've got to admire the nerve of an animated project aimed primarily at children that delve so extensively into mid-life crises.
Director Fee employs a spirited voice cast that includes Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Chris Cooper, Kerry Washington, Cheech Marin, and Larry the Cable Guy.
And the late Paul Newman, who made such an indelible and affecting contribution to Cars as racing legend Doc Hudson, Lightning's wise mentor, gets to do a posthumous cameo in flashbacks via unused line readings from the original.
The level of quality and stimulation that the original exhibited is beyond reach this outing, but at least it pretty much matches the impact of its predecessor.
So we'll hit the brakes just before we smash into 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the ambitious kidflick, Cars 3, another full-throttle, vroom-vroom adventure for car enthusiasts of any age as it redefines re-tire-ment.
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