Pixar Studios’ latest, Cars 3, is appropriately enough, the type of family movie that zigs when you’re sure that it will zag. And that’s a good thing. Considered by many to be among the studio’s lesser offerings, the Cars franchise – at least, for the first two pictures – followed a trajectory that wasn’t particularly surprising.

But this third entry takes the Creed route and, surprisingly, becomes the second major blockbuster (along with Wonder Woman) this summer to include some much-needed girl power during a season that is typically centered around teenage boys.

As the film opens, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is having to contend with old age and finds that his spot at the top is increasingly being challenged by younger, faster models – namely, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a car that is designed to be a champion and has the cocky attitude that comes with such a creation.

For the picture’s first half, Cars 3 sets viewers up to believe that this will be another in the long line of Rocky inspired movies in which an elder statesman gets one more shot at the throne and shows the younger generation how it’s done. Instead, the film finds McQueen spotting talent in his trainer – a spunky yellow vehicle known as Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who once dreamed of becoming a racer, but has settled for helping others become champions of the racing circuit.

With the introduction of Cruz, Pixar has given young women moviegoers another hero for whom to root this summer following the recent success of “Wonder Woman.” Little has been made about the female empowerment angle in the advertising for Cars 3, so I don’t know if that is because Disney executives are afraid it will scare off young men (if so, shame on them) or if it’s being withheld as a genuine plot twist. Regardless, it’s a breath of fresh air and the film’s storyline emotionally resonates.

So, while the Cars films aren’t as stylistically radical as Wall-E (still my favorite Pixar movie) or inventive as Inside Out, this latest entry sneaks into its story a theme of empowerment that breathes some new life into the series. It’s an enjoyable addition to the Pixar canon and one of the few studio movies I’ve actually enjoyed during this mostly middling summer movie season.

 

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