Sneak peek: ‘Cars 3’ zooms ahead with new character Cruz Ramirez – USA TODAY
Championship racer Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, will need help to compete in the increasingly high-tech racing world of the upcoming Cars 3.
That’s where the new trainer comes in — the sleek, yellow Cruz Ramirez is a young Hispanic female race car who instructs Lightning McQueen, as this exclusive concept art depicts during a beach run.
“Cruz Ramirez is trying to figure out how this old dog can learn some new tricks,” says Cars 3 director Brian Fee.
Pixar’s anthropomorphic Cars franchise has followed Lightning McQueen as a rookie racing for the Piston Cup in Cars (2006) and around the globe in the World Grand Prix in Cars 2 (2011). But in Cars 3 (in theaters June 16, 2017), McQueen has progressed beyond veteran status.
“Think of where he’d be in his career now in real time,” says Fee. “(McQueen) is not an old man, but he’s one of the older cars on the circuit with new rookies coming in. People start to wonder and ask when he might retire.”
These questions grow louder after a race trouncing by upstart Jackson Storm.
“Jackson Storm is the face of these rookies who have come onto the scene,” says Fee. “And McQueen is in a position where his entire racing generation is being pushed out. But it’s too early to be shown the door right now.”
Ramirez aims to help him adapt and close the technical gap. The duo prepare in the racing off-season for McQueen’s one chance to show he’s got the goods in the Florida 500 (the equivalent of the Daytona 500).
“Everyone can relate to feeling like someone is at their heels, that they might be a little outdated in something they used to be very good at, feeling an expiration date. And knowing you need someone to help you get a second chance,” says Fee.
Cars 3 is deep in production with some story points still being solidified and major casting (such as voices for Ramirez and Storm) not yet announced. But animation already underway in established scenes.
“We’re still creating the blueprints on some rooms of this house, but we’re starting to paint in other rooms,” the director says.
Fee is well entrenched in the Cars world for his directorial debut, after serving as storyboard animator in Cars and Cars 2, directed by John Lasseter.
“Brian was part of the original story team on Cars, so he really knows the DNA,” says Lasseter, now chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and executive producer for Cars 3.
Cars 3 will feature McQueen with his signature Cars look and bring back familiar characters from the original’s Radiator Springs, including tow-truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), girlfriend Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) and auto-body shop owner Ramone (Cheech Marin).
The story will stay in America, hitting historical race sites throughout the country.
“This movie is a love letter to racing and the American way,” says Fee. “We’re inspired by the Americana you see traveling through the South where every small town has a dirt track.”