In 2006, Disney and Pixar launched Cars, a funny, poignant and winning animated film that for whatever reason never became the critical darling most Pixar movies become. A 2011 sequel really got on the bad side of some critics, and now it is back for a third go-round. The only Pixar franchise that can match it in terms of numbers is Toy Story, which also had two sequels and is actually plotting a third.

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I loved the first iteration of Lightning McQueen and his adventures, and though that 2011 sequel proved bigger wasn’t necessarily better as it put that little red race car on a world stage, I didn’t mind it so much. However, as I say in my video review above, I am so glad the powers that be have given this franchise another chance to really get it right, and that they have done it with this story that finds McQueen (Owen Wilson) feeling the downside of aging as he gets beaten badly by newer, flashier models like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) and needs to find a way to get back on track.

After a visit to Radiator Springs, he gets encouraging words from old pal tow truck Mater (Larry The Cable Guy), his girlfriend (Bonnie Hunt) and even in a flashback his mentor the legendary Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). He agrees to go to a training center for a complete tune-up, physically and psychologically, at the hands of the ever-enthusiastic Cruz (Cristela Alonzo), a yellow hottie who runs McQueen through the ringer to get him back in driving shape, even as he balks at her methods. This relationship grows as he is derailed by Sterling (Nathan Fillion), the new owner of his sponsor and a slick car that sees a gold mine in branding by getting McQueen to retire and go all commercial on us.  This of course all leads to a big climatic race, but it takes a surprising twist.

Disney

My favorite sequence is when McQueen and Cruz visit an old haunt of Doc Hudson’s and take a run on the dilapidated track as well as stop in on a group of retired cars who tell loving stories of the car they simply refer to as “Hud.” This is sweet and touching stuff as the name is obviously a tip of the hat to Newman (star of the 1963 classic Hud)who served as Doc’s voice in the 2006 film and died just two years after that. The magicians at Pixar have managed to take bits of dialogue and engineer some new lines — in essence making this film Newman’s final screen appearance. It’s sentimental, but perfect and considering the racing fanatic that Newman was in real life, it could not be more appropriate.

Disney and Pixar animation chief John Lasseter directed the first two films but has handed the reins to first-time feature director Brian Fee, who has done a fine job carrying on the tradition. Considering the story line, it’s the right creative decision as well and fits perfectly with the themes of coming to terms with change and new directions that this film is about. Racing sequences top the first two films for sheer thrills and ingenuity and are masterfully animated The sharp script is from Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich.  Fans of these Cars will not be disappointed.

Disney opens Cars 3 on Friday. Do you plan to see it? Let us know what you think.