The third installment of the popular Cars franchise is set to hit theaters on June 16, 2017, featuring a slew of new characters as well as some familiar automotive faces. According to the official synopsis from Disney, protagonist race car Lightning McQueen (once again voiced by Owen Wilson) faces something of a mid-life crisis as his skills are put to the test by younger, faster models on the track.
The first trailer for Cars 3 teased a rather dramatic, graphic depiction of McQueen in a road accident, prompting some fans to question how kid-friendly the new flick would be. But the second trailer, first aired during the college football national championship game on ESPN, displayed a more comprehensive story arc that contains a moral message any family could appreciate.
“McQueen is not the young hotshot anymore, the kid he was back then in Cars 1,” says the new film’s director, Brian Fee. “He’s in the middle of his life, and as an athlete, that’s getting up there. You have your whole life ahead of you, yet your career is starting to show its age. He’s looking in the mirror and realizing, ‘I’m 40 years old,’ and dealing with the fact that the thing that you love more than anything else, you might not be able to do forever.”
Cars 3 will mark Fee’s directorial debut, though he worked on the storyboard for the first two films under the direction of John Lasseter. Fee is also a graduate of Pixar’s art department, having worked on past hits like Ratatouille and WALL-E.
Though Cars 2 earned $562 million at the box office in 2011, it failed to garner the critical praise of 2006’s original Cars film. Perhaps Americans who spend an average of 46 minutes driving 29.2 miles in their own cars every day have simply grown weary of anthropomorphized vehicles — but Fee believes that the message of Cars 3 will strike a chord with audiences of all ages, calling it “the most human” installment of the franchise.
The new trailers also introduce two new characters: the cocky young hotshot Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer) and Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a long-time McQueen fan who steps in as his new coach.
“Whereas others like Jackson would look at McQueen and dump him, Cruz isn’t like that at all,” said Fee. “She’s the most optimistic person in the world and wants to do anything to help.”
Will the third film prove a charm for the Cars franchise? For now, Disney is keeping future prospects under the hood.
“Where the franchise goes from here, I have no idea what may be down the road,” said Fee. “But I can tell you that for Lightning McQueen, as a character, I think by the end of the movie it’s safe to say that this is only the beginning for him.”