Pixar's Cars 3 a spectacular 4K disc experience
By Jim Bray
It may not be the strongest Pixar outing, but Disney/Pixar's third Cars movie offers a fantastic home theatre experience.
Indeed, the folks at Pixar are really on the top of their game here, and Disney's 4K Ultra HD disc release is truly reference quality - so much so that I'll be using it as one of my test discs going forward. It isn't just the 4K picture, it's how the 4K picture takes advantage of the Pixar folks' hard work creating the "virtual world" of Lightning McQueen, Radiator Springs, and the "pseudo-Nascar" spectacle. It's remarkable.
In Cars 3, Lightning McQueen (once again voiced by Owen Wilson) is still racing and winning, but like legends such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Helio Castroneves learned in a real life racing series (IndyCar), you can be talented and legendary and still quick, but there's always a young whippersnapper yapping at your heels (or, in this case, bumper) and there comes a time to toss in the racing helmet.
In this case, it's rookie upstart Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a new breed of high technology race car that, compared to McQueen and cars of his generation, proves just too much for ol' number 95. In the final race of the season, McQueen is desperately trying to catch Storm and the other new age cars but instead he over-revs his own abilities and ends up wiping out spectacularly and is forced to limp off back to Radiator Springs to recover (my nearly four year old grandson decided he didn't like the movie any more after the crash scene).
While cuperating again (that's "recuperating" for those who don't appreciate word games), McQueen takes out his soul and examines it. Is he washed up? He's a dinosaur compared to these new cars - which also have state-of-the-art training aids to help them, stuff like virtual reality and really cool simulators - and he wonders if he has the, well, right stuff, to keep competing at the top level.
Meanwhile, his rights are sold to a new team owner, Sterling (which looks like a stylized Alfa Romeo and is voiced by Nathan Fillion). Sterling is a big fan of McQueen's, as well as being an aftermarket parts manufacturer, and he wants McQueen to be his new spokesvehicle. The rub is that he also wants Lightning to retire. This rub rubs the racer the wrong way and leads up to the movie's climactic race: McQueen had made a deal with Sterling that if he wins the season opener, he decides when to hang up the slicks and, if he loses, he hangs them up immediately.
His new training regimen comes courtesy of new character Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo, a stylized Ferrari) a frustrated racer whose career has been derailed so that she's "merely" a coach instead of a competitor. She whines about this at length, which leads to an action in the climactic race that completely destroyed my suspension of disbelief as he - well, I won't spoil it here, so you can have your own suspension of disbelief destroyed when you watch it.
There's a lot to like about Cars 3, including its take on "the circle of life" theme as McQueen is forced to confront his own "mortality" (or at least competitiveness), and there are a lot of entertaining moments and some nice homages. It's no "The Incredibles" (my personal favourite of all the Pixar movies I've seen), but it's an enjoyable flick the whole family (except those who don't like CGI car crashes) can watch together. It seems aimed more at grown-ups than kids - and at times (especially the big race) it's quite exciting as the Pixar folks pull out all the stops in their virtual simulation of the speed and action found in motor racing.
I even laughed out loud a few times (including the time Cruz refers to herself as a "fast woman"), though on the other hand I may never forgive the producers for naming the stylized 911 character "Sally" instead of "Portia."
Disney's 4K Blu-ray package is billed as the "Ultimate Collector's Edition" and includes a 4K UHD HDR disc (getting "acro-numb" yet?) that contains only the movie, as well as two conventional Blu-rays with a 1080p version of the movie and the abundant extras. You also get a code for downloading a digital copy.
One cool feature is "UltraPlay," which means that when you close the disc drawer the movie offers you a chance to head straight to the movie rather than sit through the usual trailers, FBI warnings, etc. I hate sitting through those FBI "You'll burn in hell if you pirate this movie" warnings; they're insulting to the people who've actually ponied up their after-tax income for these Hollowwood folks' products. Ironically, I've been told that if you download content illegally from something like a Torrent site, you don't get these warnings - so if you don't want to be treated like a thief, you usually have to be one!
Anyway, I watched Cars 3 on my Panasonic 4K panel using the Oppo UDP-205 as the source and as mentioned above, I was blown away completely by the video quality. This may be the best 4K disc I've seen so far. It's appreciably better than the still-excellent Cars 3 Blu-ray, with a more stable picture, colours and backgrounds that nearly jump off the screen at you, and textures that almost seem as if you could reach out and touch them. Check out the metallic flecks in Lightning's new paint scheme - as with many other things in the movie, they just don't come through in 1080p like they do in 4K. It's really outstanding.
Heck, the backgrounds these Pixar folks have created look so real it's almost as if they're using real locations - except that I don't remember real places having rock outcroppings that look like the finned buttocks of 1950's cars.
The audio is presented in Dolby Atmos, which is backward compatible with 5.1 and 7.1 home theatres. Mine is 5.1, using Rotel's newest RAP-1580 "unreceiver," and Cars 3 sounded just great - as with the video, the sound is reference quality. The Blu-ray, by the way, gets a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack that's also very good. Both versions make good use of the surround channels, and the subwoofer, though I expected to find more surround. Still, when it counts - such as the racing venues teeming with fans and ambient sounds - all channels come through very well indeed.
As is typical of Disney, you also get plenty of extras spread across the two Blu-ray discs. Disc One contains the 1080p version of Cars 3 as well as an audio commentary in which the director, producers and others of that ilk talk about the Cars franchise, technical info about the production and how - surprise, surprise - they worked to ensure "diversity" in the voice cast (I guess they had some extra diversity boxes to tick).
The disc also includes "Lou," a Pixar short (these are always welcome and have a grand tradition stretching back to "Knick Knack", which predates the first Toy Story). There's also a fake commercial (billed on the box as an "all-new Mini movie") "Miss Fritter's Racing Skoool", and a feature on "Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could."
Disc Two comes with a five part "Behind the Scenes" feature that's pretty interesting and which covers many aspects of the film's genesis. You also get cast and crew members talking about their first cars, some deleted scenes, trailers and assorted promos.
I have no idea if Cars 3 will be the series' swan song, but if it is the series is going out on a reasonably high note. The issues of dealing with aging and the passing of the torch are handled well and really elevate Cars 3 from mere family fare to something more involving for adults.
And if you want to see just how good your home theatre can look and sound, this is definitely a title for you.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.