• by Wes Singleton

Cars 3, B-

Rated G, 109 minutes

The charming Pixar effort "Cars 3" is the third installment of the popular animated "Cars" franchise, though it's hardly original or groundbreaking in terms of storytelling or animation. It's peppered with enough fun moments for the young set and has a good enough heart so that everyone in the family leaves with a smile.

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast cars led by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), the legendary Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) finds himself pushed out of the sport that he loves. Hoping to get back in the game, he turns to Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), an eager young technician who has her own plans for winning. With inspiration from the Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns, No. 95 prepares to compete on Piston Cup Racing's biggest stage.

Directed by Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee in his feature film debut, the entertaining "Cars 3" continues this story rolling along merrily, though in fact the "Cars" films would rank to the lower end of the spectrum when ranking all of Pixar's films. The first "Cars" was original and peppy, but these last 2 installments (the most recent being in 2011), are much better suited for straight-to-DVD, where they'll be most enjoyed by families.

This time out, Lightning McQueen, voiced with usual relaxed cheer by "Midnight in Paris'" Owen Wilson, must face being replaced by a new generation of slicker, more appealing racers, led by Armie Hammer's swift new villain, Jackson Storm. The large all-star cast has a mix of new faces (Hammer, Chris Cooper, Cristela Alonzo and Nathan Fillon, among others) though still including a bevy of old ones, including Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, yukking it up as normal) and Sally (Bonnie Hunt, in a truncated role).

The good thing about one of "Cars" ongoing mottos is you win some and lose some, though that idea can become so predictable you know what is coming before it gets to you. There are some fun twists and turns, but still nothing is too surprising in "Cars 3" and it ends up with a nice, big bow on it at the end. The racing sequences are still the highlight amidst a thinner second act and the calculated last act.

"Cars 3" is enjoyable Pixar fluff, though certainly not its best. A given with these things is the fun, animated original short that comes before it, this time the touching "Lou," which has even a better message than "Cars."

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