[SPOILERS for Cars 3 ahead.]
Cars 3 originally had a different ending and included more screen time for the late Paul Newman as Doc Hudson, according to director Brian Fee. The third installment in Disney/Pixar’s animated racing-theme franchise opened in U.S. theaters this past weekend, taking the box office crown for the frame against competition from fellow newcomer All Eyez on Me, as well as Wonder Woman in its third weekend Stateside.
While the internal logic of the Cars universe may continue to confuse even the voice actors who have long worked on the series, fans of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and friends continue to turn out for their adventures. Given that the future of the Cars franchise is somewhat up in the air right now, it’s all the more worthwhile to know exactly how the ending to Cars 3 evolved, over the course of the film’s development.
In an interview with /Film, Fee talked about how the conclusion to Cars 3 evolved and was changed, more than one time. In addition to going back or forth over whether Lightning McQueen or Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) should win the film’s climactic final race, early drafts of the Cars 3 script also included more screen time for the late Paul Newman as Doc Hudson – with the addition of a sound-alike voice actor. As Fee explained:
“The sound-alike wasn’t working to the point where we just wouldn’t have done it if we had to use a sound-alike. But fortunately I think we got lucky ’cause while the story still evolved a little bit, so those little scenes with Doc changed. We have some lines with Paul Newman that we didn’t use, because the story instead of going from here to here, the story went to here [pointing to a different point in the air]. And we drew another line and there wasn’t room for those scenes anymore. They weren’t supporting the story. And then no matter how much you fall in love with something if it’s not supporting the story, then it’s distracting from the story. And then that’s so we have to cut and lose a lot of babies. You know, that scenario. But we were fortunate enough to find what we needed.”
Doc Hudson’s return in Cars 3 was a more than worthwhile nod to the roots of the Cars franchise, and as such his inclusion in the new movie may have been bolstered by more screen time. Nevertheless, the central relationship between Lightning McQueen and series newcomer Cruz Ramirez ultimately served to take the series in a new direction from which it can continue to evolve, going forward. Speaking to how he went about deciding on the two character’s final relationship towards one another, Fee stated:
“Well, we just…it’s hard to believe now ’cause we were always trying to tell a story of mentorship. We were always trying to… I can sit here and tell you I was initially inspired by this idea that McQueen would step out of the spotlight and watch his child, so to speak, to someone that he feels like almost a parent, enjoy success. And he would see that as better than his own success, right? Even though that was the original emotion, we didn’t tell that story as well [and] I think it turned out better than we originally started. We originally had McQueen winning that race. And then his idea to mentor Cruz was a little bit of an epilogue. And it was very hollow.”
After continuing to go back and forth in regards to who would win the final race in Cars 3, Fee and company finally landed on the ending included in the film. Whether or not viewers were surprised, happy, or disappointed with where the latest entry in the Cars franchise leaves Lightning McQueen is now up for debate, though hearing Fee discuss the process that went into deciding upon the official ending will no doubt pique the interest of the movie’s most devoted fans.