When the first teaser trailer for Cars 3 arrived back in November, everyone was pretty taken aback by how bleak and dark the tone was. It previewed a devastating crash involving franchise star Lightning McQueen, and felt more like a Christopher Nolan movie than a Pixar film. But this is a Pixar film after all, and while the movie’s inciting incident may be rather dramatic, new plot details tease some lighter thematic and character dynamics ahead.
John Lasseter helmed the first Cars back in 2006 and took over directing duties on Pixar low-point Cars 2 when that sequel ran into production troubles, but for Cars 3 the directing reigns go to first-time director Brian Fee. Fee worked as a storyboard artist on the first two Cars movies so he has some experience with this franchise, and in a new piece over at EW, he and Lasseter revealed new plot details for this threequel as well as further casting.
In essence, Cars 3 is a movie about millennials—which is fitting given that the kids who were first struck by Cars back in 2006 are right in that age range a decade later. As Fee explains, Cars 3 finds Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen discovering he’s now part of the “old guard” going up against a swath of tech-savvy newcomers:
“McQueen is not the young hotshot anymore, the kid he was back then in Cars 1. He’s in the middle of his life, and as an athlete, that’s getting up there. You have your whole life ahead of you, yet your career is starting to show its age. He’s looking in the mirror and realizing, ‘I’m 40 years old,’ and dealing with the fact that the thing that you love more than anything else, you might not be able to do forever.”
In the film’s villainous role of Jackson Storm is The Social Network and Nocturnal Animals star Armie Hammer, and he’ll be pulling from his Social Network characters to bring to life a smarmy driver with his eyes focused squarely on the road ahead:
“Jackson was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Everything comes easy to him, and everything about him says he’s faster, so much so that we’ve designed him so that even when he’s standing next to McQueen, McQueen looks old… He thinks the world is his. He’s taking over. He’s owed it. In a very broad term, I think of old football players with those little leather skull caps, and you think of football players now with all their armor, hitting so hard. It’s not the same game. What they did was not anything like what we do now. And that’s Jackson: He thinks the future of racing and the high-tech ways they train and what they can do means they’re taking the sport to a new level, and the older guys had their day, and it’s done, and they have no place in the future of racing.”
But not all of the Cars millennials are shoving McQueen aside. He finds a friendly face in new trainer Cruz Ramirez, who will be voiced by Cristela Alonzo, creator and star of the TV series Cristela. She’s described as sunny and optimistic, and comes to McQueen’s aid to help him rehabilitate and get back on the track to show Jackson Storm what’s what.
So it sounds like Cars 3 is something of a mirror of Cars 1, in that the character who was once the hotshot with no time or attention paid to the old guard is now part of the old guard himself. The Cars franchise is undoubtedly lucrative, especially from a licensing standpoint, and indeed Fee declines to confirm whether Cars 3 marks the end of the story or not, adding that by the end of the movie it’s “only the beginning” for Lightning McQueen. So we’re probably not in for the same finality that permeated Toy Story 3.
But yeah, Pixar has made a movie about millennials, and it’s a Cars sequel. That’s certainly more interesting than whatever they were doing with Cars 2, and while Inside Out was phenomenal, the studio has become far more hit and miss in recent years. Here’s hoping Cars 3 is a pleasant surprise when it hits theaters on June 16th.