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‘Cars 3’ review: Lightning strikes in third round of Pixar series

Solid storytelling, a longtime strength of the best Pixar pictures, elevates “Cars 3” into the pantheon with the studio’s finest. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

Usually by the time a movie franchise hits its third installment, the whole enterprise has run out of gas creatively. Too often, the spark and originality that made the first picture a hit have been drained away, and the follow-ups are vehicles whose sole goal is to grab as much cash as possible by exploiting the goodwill generated by the movie that launched the franchise.

But not always.

Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” is generally acknowledged to be the strongest and most emotionally resonant entry in that series. And now, with “Cars 3,” Pixar has done it again.

Movie Review ★★★½  

‘Cars 3,’ with the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy. Directed by Brian Fee, from a screenplay by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich. 100 minutes. Rated G; suitable for all ages. Several theaters.

In a way, that’s an even more impressive achievement, because the first “Cars” is not regarded as a first-tier offering from the animation behemoth. Unlike, say, “Up” or “WALL-E,” “Cars” is more overtly kiddie friendly and less substantial in terms of its storytelling. “Cars 3,” by contrast, is heartfelt and thoughtful.

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Key characters from the original appear at the beginning and toward the end to cement the relationship between the two movies. (“Cars 2,” a frantic, noisy spy-story spoof, was widely reviled by critics, and is not referenced in the new movie.)

A key element of the first “Cars” is the steadying mentoring of its hotshot hero racer Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) by wise old Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman). Though Doc is departed, he’s nevertheless prominently…

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