Pixar have just dropped some new information about the upcoming Cars 3, and there is a lot of ground to cover. Buckle your seatbelts. (Pun fully intended.)
First of all: we all remember that surprisingly morbid trailer with its foreboding “From now on, everything will change” tagline, which set up this film to be an uncharacteristically dark sequel to a franchise that has so far been very light-hearted.
Sorry to spoil things so early on, but Lightning McQueen (played by Owen Wilson) isn't dead. He is, however, facing a moment every major athlete ends up facing eventually: the end of his career. Lightning is - presumably in car years - now in his 40’s, and what we saw in the teaser was a slightly too close brush with mortality that has left him to decide whether it might be time to call it quits.
First-time Pixar director Brian Fee, who has taken over from the story’s creator John Lasseter, says: “McQueen is not the young hotshot anymore, the kid he was back then in Cars 1. 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.”
And it's not just Lightning’s own introspection that is causing him doubt: new competition has arrived, as it always does, and is eager to take McQueen’s place. The ringleader of the fresh meat, voiced by Armie Hammer, is new villain Jackson Storm.
Fee describes Storm as “born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Everything comes easy to him, and everything about him says he’s faster, so much so that we’ve designed him so that even when he’s standing next to McQueen, McQueen looks old.” And it's true: Jackson does look sleeker and speedier, as a 2017 top-end racing car should compared to one from 2006, representing the real-world innovation that has occurred (and the attention to detail from Pixar here is awesome).
Fee continues: “He thinks the world is his. He’s taking over. He’s owed it. In a very broad term, I think of old football players with those little leather skull caps, and you think of football players now with all their armor, hitting so hard. It’s not the same game. What they did was not anything like what we do now. And that’s Jackson: He thinks the future of racing and the high-tech ways they train and what they can do means they’re taking the sport to a new level, and the older guys had their day, and it’s done, and they have no place in the future of racing.”
This is where I find this new plot rubs me the wrong way somewhat: the majority of Jackson’s villainy, by the sound of things, is that he is supposed to be modelled on ‘millenials’. And hey, maybe I’m biased: I’m 22, so definitely on the later end of the millennial scale. But it's so damn tiring to hear this constant refrain about being ‘entitled’, ‘lazy’, ‘owed the world’, et cetera. It's so overdone at this point that I’m internally rolling my eyes at the thought of yet another shallow, unfounded critique of an age group purely for being born at the wrong time.
But maybe that's an argument for another article. Let's get back to the new stuff!
Jackson Storm isn't the only new character who will be gracing our screens. There is also Cruz Ramirez, voiced by Cristela Alonzo - the glimmer of redemption for both Jackson and Lightning.
Cruz is young, but she is firmly on Lightning’s side of things: a bright, optimistic, fierce friend who is a lifelong fan of Lightning, and his new coach. “Whereas others like Jackson would look at McQueen and dump him, Cruz isn’t like that at all,” Fee explains. “She’s the most optimistic person in the world and wants to do anything to help.”
And while we’re on the topic of new things, check out Lightning’s new look for the film, too:
The story itself is, according to John Lasseter, going to be “very emotional”. Fee also says that it will be “the most human” film of the franchise (somewhat ironically), given the theme of Lightning reconciling with his age in a world moving on without him. Whether this is going to be the last we see of Lightning, however, remains a mystery: the story certainly seems to be a Toy Story 3-esque finale. Fee doesn't give any hints, but does say: “Where the franchise goes from here, I have no idea what may be down the road, 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.”
Looks like we’ll find out when Cars 3 arrives in cinemas on 16 June.