Lightning McQueen is back on the big screen, but he’s not a rookie anymore. Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Piston-Cup champion finds himself suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. “The next-gen racers are cool,” says director Brian Fee. “You can see instantly that cars like Jackson Storm are effortlessly fast. We designed these younger, faster cars to be sleek and aerodynamic—and they’re a sharp contrast to Lightning McQueen.”
Producer Kevin Reher says the story is reflective of real-life champions. “Lightning McQueen has been racing for more than a decade,” says Reher. “He’s struggling with the kind of issues a lot of athletes face later in their careers. Do you go out on top or fight till the end?”
While Lightning is still the same self-assured, determined and fun-loving race car audiences fell in love with, his confidence is being tested by the new cars on the track. “When we first met Lightning McQueen, he was a young rookie—a superhero,” says Fee. “He had his whole life ahead of him. And while he’s done well since we last saw him, he’s not a young hotshot racer anymore. We kept circling the idea of what happens when an athlete like Lightning is in the twilight of his career.”
Enter Cruz Ramirez. Tasked with getting Lightning McQueen back on track after a devastating setback, Cruz isn’t shy. Her training style is high-tech, enthusiastic and steadfast—she’s not afraid to apply a little tough love. But there’s more to Cruz than meets the eye. “I love Cruz’s story,” says co-producer Andrea Warren. “She’s such an admirable, likable character. She’s so passionate about racing and her role to create champions. The movie isn’t just about Lightning McQueen—it’s Cruz’s story, in many ways.”
“Cars 3” features Owen Wilson (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” upcoming “Wonder”) as the voice of Lightning McQueen. Cristela Alonzo (“The Angry Birds Movie”) voices tech-savvy trainer Cruz Ramirez, who tries to help #95 return to greatness, and Armie Hammer (“The Birth of a Nation”) lends his voice to next-gen racer Jackson Storm, whose high-tech speed leaves Lightning McQueen behind. Kerry Washington (ABC’s “Scandal,” HBO’s “Confirmation”) was called on to voice statistical analyst Natalie Certain, Nathan Fillion (ABC’s “Castle,” ABC’s “Modern Family”) provides the voice of brilliant businesscar Sterling, Lea DeLaria (Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”) lends her voice to formidable school bus Miss Fritter, and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton helps bring voice command assistant Hamilton to life.
“Cars 3” pays homage to NASCAR with four characters based on real-life stock car racing legends. Chris Cooper (“Adaptation,” “American Beauty”) voices Doc Hudson’s crew chief Smokey; team owner and NASCAR racing legend Junior Johnson lends his voice to Junior “Midnight” Moon; three-time Emmy® winner Margo Martindale (FX’s “The Americans,” FX’s “Justified,” Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete”) provides the voice of Louise “Barnstormer” Nash; and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (HBO’s “The Wire,” “Cedar Rapids,” HBO’s “Veep”) is the voice of River Scott. The film also features NASCAR drivers and the voices behind the sport, as well as a host of returning characters from Radiator Springs and the “Cars” racing world.
Directed by Fee (storyboard artist “Cars,” “Cars 2“), produced by Reher (“A Bug’s Life,” “La Luna” short) and co-produced by Warren (“LAVA” short), “Cars 3” is executive produced by John Lasseter, who directed the first two films in the franchise. With a story by Fee, Ben Queen (TV’s “Powerless”), Eyal Podell (actor “Code Black”) & Jonathon E. Stewart (“Doing Time” short), the screenplay was penned by Kiel Murray (“Cars”), Bob Peterson (“Up,” “Finding Nemo”) and Mike Rich (“Secretariat,” “The Rookie”). Featuring a score by Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman (“Toy Story 3,” “Cars”), instrumental cues composed by Brad Paisley, and original songs by ZZ Ward and Grammy winner Dan Auerbach, Disney•Pixar’s “Cars 3” cruises into theaters on July 26, 2017.