Pixar’s ‘Cars 3’: What We Know So Far

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The College Football Playoff National Championship on ESPN, which aired Jan. 9, not only played host to down-to-the-wire game, it gave Disney’s/Pixar fans a sneak peek of their big summer movie: Cars 3.

Pixar has a busy schedule ahead of them in the next couple of years, including an original Dia De Los Muertes themed movie, Coco, coming Nov. 22, and the long-anticipated The Incredibles 2 set for a summer 2018 release, but first Pixar’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter will re-visit his love of cars once more.

Some might be letting out a “not them again” groan, while others can’t wait to hit the track. Either way, Pixar’s promotional campaign is already in “full gear.”

Here are few things we can surmise so far about Cars 3:

It’s Darker and More Emotional Than It’s Predecessors

When the first brief teaser was released in November 2016, the wild, yet familiar, racing action came to a sudden halt as everyone’s favorite four-wheeled protagonist Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), skids out of view for a violent off-screen crash. Switch to slow-mo footage accompanied by heavy, troubled breathing, and McQueen spiraling through the air with the foreboding tag line “From This Moment Everything Will Change.”

Yikes! If the reactions on social media were any indication, many fans were shocked by this sharp, dark turn. There were even a few parents who were worried in it might be to upsetting for younger viewers. However, the new trailer does show Lightning is very much alive, but certainly not the pole position holder he once was.

According to the movie’s official synopsis, the movie plays out like many live action sports stories, as the young and cocky Lightning we knew in the first film is now finding himself in the shoes (or tires) of the older, seasoned racers he once thought he was better than:

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez, with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns.

Unlike Cars 2, which seemed more of a way to bring in new Cars tie-in products to consumers, Cars 3, will concentrate less on spectacle and more on story and characters.

During the premiere of Finding Dory in June of 2016, Lasseter told reporters for Entertainment Weekly this new film will be “a very emotional story (more) akin to Cars 1, where you get into a deep emotion with (Lightning).”

Lasseter, who directed the first two cars movies, won’t be directing this one himself. He’ll be handing over the honor to Disney and Pixar artist Brian Fee for his directorial debut.

We Meet (at Least) Two New Cars

Comic actress and writer Cristela Alonzo, known for her own self-titled comedy show, as well as frequent guest host appearances on the talk show The View, will be McQueen’s new mentor, Cruz Ramirez. She looks like a practical sports coupe, but is listed as “High Performance DOHC V-6” that can reach of top speed of 210 mph.

She is seen bearing the “Rusteze Racing Center: Team 95” badge, so from the looks of things, she should be the strong voice of encouragement and leadership to keep him in the race.

The “breakout” hot shot of the film will be Jackson Storm, portrayed by Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, Nocturnal Animals), and he is impressive.

Complete with a carbon fiber and metal alloy body, this custom built “Next-Gen” racer has top speed of 214 mph and a V-8 engine with 850 hp (horsepower). Wow!

Despite the fact Storm is depicted as the film’s antagonist (who is likely responsible for McQueen’s tragic crash) it’s hard not to have a “car crush” on him. He might be a bad boy trying steal Lightning’s thunder, but you still want to own one.

According to IMBD, there will be a return of many familiar characters most with their original voice talents: Mater (Larry The Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt), Luigi (Tony Shalhoub), Ramone (Cheech Marin), Lizze (Katherine Helmond), Sheriff (Michael Wallis), and Sarge (Paul Dooley).

It Likely Won’t Be So Mater-Centric

Yes, everyone loves Mater, but the Cars 2 movie focusing more on Mater’s story than the race just wasn’t as sincere as the original, despite the introduction of the Bond-like spy Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine.

The popular, and actually pretty durn “funny, I don’t care who ya’ are” shorts series, Mater’s Tall Tales, also put Lightning in the “supporting character” role.

Although Mater will return, he hasn’t been in the spotlight for previews. Not one “Git ‘Er Done,” to be heard. It’s too early to tell how much Mater plays a part in Cars 3, but it might be refreshing to let him take a “back seat,” and let Lightning’s story progress once more.

The Animation Will Be Amazing!

This comment is applicable to pretty much every new Pixar project. What is always impressive about Pixar is even the smallest details can have such an impact, they make the audience forget, even for a brief moment, they aren’t actually part of the world being depicted on screen. The texture on feathers, hair, metal, or cloth; the subtle lighting for early morning or twilight; sun spots; subtle facial expression; and the list just goes on.

When the original Cars trailer came out in 2006, the attention to details was already over the top, particularly the NASCAR-worthy race scenes. Remember how impressive the “mirage” reflections were on the track? These almost seem primitive compared to the vibrations on the track, the smoke and blurs, the pieces of asphalt coming off the tires, and the sparks seen in the current teasers.

Even the sound quality is amped. Fox Sports’s NASCAR coverage often encourages fans to “crank it up” (“it”meaning the volume, at more intense moments in the race). To get the full effects of both the new Cars 3 sneak peek and new character unveilings, do the same.

It’s An Homage To The “Real” Car World

Those who loved the original Cars have already picked up on Lasseter’s affection for the nostalgic era of car travel, as well as “America’s Highway,” Route 66. Movie and car buffs appreciated the use of the late veteran actor and race car enthusiast Paul Newman as Doc Hudson. Even Lightning’s surname is a celebration of actor and racing fiend Steve McQueen.

For this new film, as with the original Cars movie in 2006, Lasseter went right to the source of car culture: Detroit.

He introduced car lovers attending the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 8 to a full-sized version of the “updated” Lightning McQueen with a sleeker paint job and a bit of body work, but he also talked to attendees about his lifelong love of cars.

“One of the things in all our films is to get the details right, and we believe in tremendous amounts of research,” Lasseter said in his presentation to so attendees, “so being a car guy and growing up with motor oil going through my blood, research about cars and racing and everything was awesome.”

That research begun at the 2001 Detroit Auto Show, long before the first movie was released.

Pixar wanted to make sure they continued getting the “details right,” for their latest Cars effort. To keep the spirit of racing in tact, as well as a believable look at what the “future” of NASCAR style racing might be, Pixar consulted former Ford Motor Company chief of design J Mays with some initial sketch designs for Jackson Storm.

They also did a few “mods” on McQueen to make him look both classic, yet a little bit obsolete in the new racing world.

Lasseter, who’s dad worked in the parts department of a Chevy Dealership, attends the show every year. He told attendees it was his own family’s trip along Route 66 taught him a very special lesson that gave birth to the story for the world of Cars.

“The journey in life is the reward: it’s not about the destination,” he said.

Not everyone may be excited to be taking another lap around the track, or drive up Radiator Springs’ Main Street once more. Still, Pixar is doing everything they can to tempt them all to pay another visit: at least if Lightning McQueen has his way, as he tells detractors in the new trailer:

“I decide when I’m done,” he said.

Cars 3 zooms into theatres June 16.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.