Pixar returns to its popular Cars franchise with Cars 3. Unlike Cars 2, which took the storyline in a different direction, Cars 3 is set to return to its motor racing roots, taking influence from Nascar and Daytona 500. Once again the movie belongs to Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) but this time, given how long he’s been in the sport for, he’s struggling to keep up with the younger cars.
McQueen is no longer at the top of his game. Like all sports stars, his age hampers his ability, and there’s a new generation of younger, sleeker, faster cars coming up behind him – hot on his heels. One such car is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), the villain of the piece. Just like McQueen in the first Cars movie, he believes himself to be invincible, and McQueen tries to outrace him with disastrous consequences. Following a spin out, McQueen gets a new trainer in the form of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Like Storm, she is a next gen car, but she is bright, happy and upbeat; the perfect character to set McQueen back on track. In fact, much of the movie will focus on the relationship between this pairing, and although no future is confirmed for the Cars franchise going forward, it seems as though Ramirez is being set up as one of the main protagonists, should there be a Cars 4.
Cruz Ramirez comes from humble beginnings, growing up in a small town with her mother, who taught her to “dream small or not at all.” However, she didn’t dream small; Ramirez longed to be a race car, and watched McQueen racing on the world circuit. She had the talent, possibly, but she lacked the courage, feeling as though she could never win because the other cars were bigger and faster. As a result, she now works as a trainer, and uses a simulator to bring all her vehicles up to race standard, because she’s too afraid to be out in the real world. While it never occurred to McQueen that he couldn’t do something, it never occurred to Ramirez that she could.
Throughout the course of Cars 3, Ramirez teaches McQueen to accept his inevitable ageing, and advises him that although he might not race faster than Storm, he can race smarter. McQueen is struggling, though, and doesn’t want to face the reality of his situation. It’s only when Ramirez finally loses her cool and blows up at him, telling him of her failed dream, that he realizes she’s a person, and begins to treat her as such. Gradually, the inspiration begins to become a two way street, with both building the other’s confidence. Could we see Ramirez finally achieve her racing dream? Will McQueen be triumphant again? The answer is possibly, on both counts, but what is really interesting is how the franchise might move forward from here.
It is unrealistic to have McQueen play the world’s best race car for a fourth movie, in a franchise that began eleven years ago? Sports stars have to retire earlier than most, given the nature of their careers, and given that Cars is already looking at the ageing factor, it seems logical that Pixar would retire him. Following in the footsteps of many former sports stars, McQueen could then take up coaching, if he wished. That leaves the way clear for a new car to compete to be the best – Cruz Ramirez. While we could also see Storm return, and he is a great character, Ramirez is endearingly sweet and will connect well with a young audience. She is also female, in a male-dominated world. Not only might this make the Cars franchise appeal more to girls, but it also sends out a powerful message from Pixar about how they view the role of women in sport.
Of course, setting Ramirez up as the main race car going forward, is not to say that Pixar should or would drop McQueen. A lot has been made of how Cars 3 is McQueen’s movie once again, after the second Cars instalment focused more on Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Lightning McQueen is a hugely popular character, and sells billions in merchandise. Looking at it realistically, he will always outsell Ramirez in terms of merch, simply because he’s male and Cars predominantly appeals to boys. So, having Ramirez alongside McQueen as the double-billing seems like the way forward, and one which could work well. To that end, it also gives Pixar the chance to continue the character arcs of other new characters from Cars 3, such as Jackson Storm and Sterling (Nathan Fillion) and to maybe fade out on some older ones. Possibly Mater could stick around, given his popularity and his strong ties to McQueen, but the others could well have run their course
It’s been six years since Cars 2, and Cars 3 already seems like the movie that will revive the franchise. Given the buzz surrounding the movie already, it would be logical of Pixar to continue with the momentum and announce a Cars 4. At the moment, everyone is very tight lipped about Ramirez being the future of Cars, but you can pretty much guarantee that plans are already in place, if (or when) Cars 3 proves to be a hit.