Cars 3 (U)  AFTER the clear low point of the entire Pixar oeuvre that was Cars 2, the studio has clearly gone back to the old drawing board of the first film – namely, forgetting the distracting spy automobile shenanigans and returning the action to the small town, backwater setting of Radiator Springs still so associated with the series.

Veteran racer Lightning McQueen (once again voiced by Owen Wilson) is back to the world of the Piston Cup. But where he once ruled the racetrack, he finds himself blindsided by the arrival of a new generation of cars – primarily hotshot newbie Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) – equipped with fancy tech, slicker body work and bigger personalities to hold the crowd’s attention.

In order to try to get back on top, as well as avoiding being relegated to fodder for big company merchandise, he joins a state-of-the-art training facility full of VR simulations and motivational seminars, run by enterprising owner Sterling (Nathan Fillion).

This third outing in the franchise is undoubtedly beautiful to look at – Pixar’s technical prowess continues to amaze – and there’s the enjoyably sparky presence of new addition Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), Lightning’s endlessly optimistic personal trainer who gets all the best lines and lends the film some painfully needed weight in its tackling of female inclusion in Hollywood stories.

But it’s never anything to get excited about, coasting on fumes of what audiences may have liked the first time around and never provid-ing anything we haven’t seen before.

The hero-as-underdog routine, repetitive racing sequences, the tired theme of believing in yourself, and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) making supposedly endearing dim-witted comments are now as old and tired as a rusted bumper.

One word comes to mind with this threequel: superfluous. Pretty to look at it may be, but it’s safe sequel-making that’s only mildly entertaining at best and lacks the emotional heft so integral to most of Pixar’s work.