An award magnet, animation studio Pixar has spent the last few decades establishing itself as one of the all-time best sources for quality animated films, achieving a track record of excellence rivaled by only a small select few. For Pixar's first 15 years in existence, every single one of its films managed to become a critical darling, with all but one earning upwards of 90 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. That one was 2006's Cars. While Cars' 74 percent rating is far from a failure, it was the only break in that long chain, at least until 2011 sequel Cars 2 managed to become a full-on critical bomb, earning only 39 percent.
On the financial side though, the Cars films have still managed to do quite well for themselves, with the original Cars hauling in over $460 million worldwide on a budget of $120 million. Despite its negative reviews, Cars 2 managed about the same level of profit, earning over $560 million worldwide on a budget of $200 million. To this day, though, many Pixar devotees view Cars 2 as a notable aberration, and a clear low-point among the studio's otherwise widely beloved filmography. Still, Cars 2 was Pixar's first ever non-Toy Story sequel, and subsequent follow-ups Monsters University and Finding Dory ended up being held in much higher esteem.
Cars 2 could very well turn out to be only a hiccup along Pixar's winding road of greatness, with the upcoming Cars 3 set to ride in and get things back on track for the series. Directed by Brian Fee -- a storyboard artist on the first two Cars films -- Cars 3 follows a now-aging Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who is forced to retire from racing after a devastating crash, only to eventually turn around and try to get back in the mix. Update: Disney has officially announced that three new characters have been added to the growing Cars 3 voice cast, after yesterday's report from People that Scandal star Kerry Washington and genre favorite Nathan Fillion had joined the production.
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- Kerry Washington (“Scandal,” “Confirmation”) lends her voice to Natalie Certain, a highly respected statistical analyst who knows her numbers. Book-smart and mathematically gifted, Certain may earn top marks in her ability to evaluate a racer’s stats, but she could be underestimating the importance of determination.
- Nathan Fillion (“Castle,” “Modern Family”) voices Sterling, a brilliant businesscar who runs Rust-eze Racing Center—one of the most successful elite training facilities in the country. The always dapper Sterling comes across as unassuming and laid back, but business is business, and Sterling is driven to ensure all of his investments pay off.
- Lea DeLaria (“Orange is the New Black”) provides the voice of Miss Fritter, a local legend at the Thunder Hollow Speedway demolition derby. Fritter’s formidable school-bus size is intimidating, but it’s her smoke stacks of doom, razor-sharp stop sign and crazy collection of her victims’ license plates that usually steers her opponents in the other direction.
Washington -- in her first animated voice role -- will voice Natalie Certain, a new member of Lightning's team, and an apparent expert in statistical analysis. Her knowledge will surely help McQueen on his journey back to the top of the heap, alongside new trainer Cruz Martinez (Cristela Alonzo). Fillion will be playing the eye-catching and charismatic business-minded car Sterling, who looks a bit like he'd be at home in a James Bond movie.
After the critical drubbing sustained by Cars 2, it'll be interesting to see if this seemingly more focused threequel manages to rehabilitate the reputation of the overall Cars franchise. Either way, history suggests that it'll still make a ton of money, regardless of critical sentiment.
“Cars 3” also welcomes the gang from Radiator Springs back to the big screen, including Lightning McQueen’s best buddy Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), and #95’s No. 1 fan Sally (voice of Bonnie Hunt). Friends supporting their hometown hero include Fillmore (voice of Lloyd Sherr), Sarge (voice of Paul Dooley), Lizzie (voice of Katherine Helmond), Ramon (voice of Cheech Marin), Sheriff (voice of Michael Wallis) and Flo (voice of Jenifer Lewis).
Loyal transporter Mack (voice of John Ratzenberger), big-hearted Italian Fiat 500 Luigi (voice of Tony Shalhoub) and charming little Italian forklift Guido (voice of Guido Quaroni) continue to support Lightning McQueen’s racing endeavors. World-renowned sports announcer Bob Cutlass (voice of Bob Costas) is still calling the races, and Chick Hicks (voice of Bob Peterson) is back—this time as a commentator on the Racing Sports Network. The lovable duo Dusty (voice of Ray Magliozzi) and Rusty (voice of Tom Magliozzi) return as Rust-eze’s chief proprietors—though they have big things in store for Lightning McQueen.
- Cars 3 (2017) release date: Jun 16, 2017