We haven’t screened Cars 3 yet but we have seen some of it and have a pretty good idea of what to expect thanks to a little visit we took to San Francisco in April to spend a day at Pixar. There we chatted with director Brian Fee, writers, animators, artists, and many other creative minds behind the animated three-quel.

What we can say before we see the film in full and interview the cast is that Cars 3 is the return to star Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) story. Cars 2 overly focused on Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and the idea behind the next one was to embrace a return to form, re-focus on number 95, and dig even more into Nascar culture with a modern spin as McQueen ages into to veteran role. The mandate from the beginning of breaking this story is that it’d be the third act of the McQueen Story.

Despite the franchise being about literal talking cars, Cars has always been one of Pixar’s closest-to-the-real-world IPs with real people dealing with real problems. In 2006 Lightning McQueen was top of the game, the new hotness, the new look, designed to make competition look outdated. In Cars 3, it’s the opposite. Jackson Storm is the next generation and McQueen is old. He’s no longer the fastest. For fans of the original film who have aged over the last decade and change, or parents who brought their children to see the original in 2006, that’s a reality we can all relate to.

Cars 3 Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez The Theme of Pixars Cars 3 And Whats Possible in Cars 4

Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez

By embracing this idea, that there’s a new generation of cars ahead of McQueen, this helped Pixar address the challenge of the previous movies leaving him at the top of the world. Cars 2 ended very nicely for him so they had to create a dilemma, a problem to wrestle with for someone who was an easy to work with iconic sports personality in Lightning McQueen. The opening of Cars 3, as emphasized in the film’s first surprisingly dark teaser trailer, came from some very real-world circumstances.

In Cars 1, McQueen is young. Cars 3 gives Pixar the opportunity to see him way later in career, the real world example being – What did Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have to deal with at the end of the career? Do they let it impede them or does it let them change it up and play smarter. This idea of needing to move past things that would crush them, how they deal with adversity, transcends Cars. It’s relatable to everything.

How do they know when they’re old? The kids will tell ya! This is where the antagonist Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) comes in; a younger, somewhat mirror image of McQueen when he was younger. And McQueen quickly realizes that this is a very real threat to him racing, to what he loves.

Related: How Pixar Designed Lightning McQueen’s Ultimate Nemesis

Cars 3 aims to show why Lightning loves racing, something he’ll have to reflect on by digging into the roots of racing and changing his own philosophy on life. Pixar conducted research trips to see why and how racing developed in the American South, how Nascar became what it is today. They have consultants like Ray Evernham (Former Crew Chief for Hendrick Motorsports) on staff and they found old ghost tracks, now run over with forest with bleachers rotted out. They spoke to people who used to work in these places and old veteran racers to see why they were in it, what drove them.

It’s all based on the theme of rebellion.

From running moonshine, and driving to be faster than the competition, these old school southern car drivers and the competition around it evolved into an organized sport. But even then with rules and regulations, participants would try to circumvent the rules to have an edge. It’s not just about being the fastest. It’s about being the smartest, something McQueen will have to realize in Cars 3.

Next Page: Enter Cruz Ramirez, Setting Up Cars 4?

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