Whereas Disney/Pixar's 2006 animated film Cars is generally considered something of a minor entry in the animation studio's larger filmography (if also a solid family-friendly cartoon feature in its own right), most filmgoers seem to agree that the sequel Cars 2 is Pixar's weakest movie released to date. Pixar's own Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter has defended the Cars sequel in the past, nonetheless, while other moviegoers have argued that Cars 2 isn't necessarily a bad film in the grand scheme of kid-friendly entertainment; it's just not up to Pixar's usual quality standard.
Moreover, both Cars and Cars 2 were quite successful at the worldwide box office (they grossed $462 million and $560 million, respectively), which accounts for Disney/Pixar's decision to move ahead with Cars 3. Those who are wary of a third Cars movie being made can take comfort in Lasseter's comments about the project, suggesting that the film will offer a balanced measure of humor and heart more on par with what audiences have come to expect from Pixar films in general (and closer to what the original Cars offered, more than its followup).
Lasseter, speaking to EW at the blue carpet premiere screening for Pixar's Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory, said that Cars 3 is a meaningful personal story for the series' protagonist Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) - one that touches upon his relationship in the first Cars movie with his elderly mentor, Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman, who passed away between the release of the first two Cars films):
“Lightning McQueen, he’s awesome. We’ve got some great new characters, some great racing in it. It’s a very emotional story. It’s a little bit more akin to Cars 1, where you get into a deep emotion with him. It’s really a special story. It’s very emotional and his relationship with Doc Hudson, and his memory of Doc Hudson.”
Cars 3, as is being directed by Brian Fee (a storyboard artist on Cars 1 & 2), finds McQueen struggling to keep up with the ever-changing technology and techniques of the racing world. The sequel's storyline harkens back thematically to the original Cars in that respect alone, as the original film (which Lasseter co-directed) examined how the continuous evolution of life in the Cars universe (specifically, when it comes to highway construction) resulted in the small town of Radiator Springs being - quite literally - pushed off the map.
Similarly, Cars 3 revolves around a student/teacher relationship; only in this case, McQueen is the older vehicle and he receives instructions on how to keep up with the younger generation of racing hot-shots from an up and coming racing car, by the name of Cruz Ramirez (voice actor TBA). This is presumably where McQueen's memory of Doc Hudson comes into play (as Lasseter mentions), since McQueen's current techniques and racing philosophy came from Doc - something that will make it all the more emotionally challenging for him (and, in theory, poignant to watch as a viewing experience) to learn some new tricks from Ramirez, at the expense of the knowledge passed down to him by the Doc.
Already, Cars 3 is sounding more on the level with Pixar's better movies and less similar to the Mater-centered globe-trotting romp that was Cars 2. It might not be enough to win over those who have never been fans of the Cars series to being with, but at least the third Cars installment has the potential to be a more satisfying work of Pixar storytelling than some were previously expecting.
Cars 3 opens in U.S. theaters on June 16th, 2017.