Ben Zacuto ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Film Editor
Over this past weekend, we had the pleasure of being invited to attend the Grand Opening Kick-Off Celebration of the Cars 3 Road to the Races Tour in Boston. Road to the Races is a nationwide tour inviting fans of #95 (Lightning McQueen) to gear up for the upcoming June 16th release of Disney•Pixar’s Cars 3. At the event, guests had the opportunity to partake in a host of family-friendly activities, watch an exclusive preview of the upcoming film, and take pictures with life-size character cars: Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), and Cars 3 inductees Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) and Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). The free, public event took place at Assembly Row Square, the one and only tour stop in New England.
One of the family-friendly activities provided at the event included a pit-stop station presented by Coppertone, where families could change the wheels of a car. Another activity was the Acceleration Station, presented by Nascar, where guests could color, cut-out, and build paper cut-outs of the main characters in Cars 3. One of the most popular activities, however, was getting the chance to take a picture with the Cars franchise protagonist, Lightning McQueen. Lightning was accompanied by new characters from the upcoming film, Cruz Ramirez and Jackson Storm. In the film, Cruz Ramirez serves as a coach for Lightning by helping him regain his strength and stamina after taking a disastrous blow at his last race, featured in the film’s teaser trailer. The film’s antagonist, Jackson Storm, is the new up-and-coming hot shot racer who challenges Lightning’s racing record. Storm serves a similar role to the one that Lightning played in the first Cars film.
While meeting Lightning, Cruz, and Storm in person was a real treat, the most satisfying experience provided to guests of the Road to the Races tour was the behind-the-scenes look at the inspiration behind and exclusive preview of the upcoming film, Cars 3. In the feature, guests were treated to an exclusive film clip in which Lightning and Cruz are forced to partake in a demolition derby. The image below features a new character named Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria), a school-bus turned-demolition derby victor who challenges Lightning and Cruz through a series of muddy and car-on-car impact-heavy sequences.
Before the clip was shown, we were treated to a series of new shots, concept art, and interviews featuring most prominently director Brian Fee and executive producer John Lasseter. These interviews painted a unique picture of where this new installment in the Cars franchise lies thematically. In the film, Lightning McQueen is struggling with whether he should continue racing or retire, as new racers (most prominently Jackson Storm) challenge his long-held racing legacy. Lightning McQueen seems to be at a crossroad in his career. The same can be said for the film Cars 3 itself. After having a tumultuous time with audiences and critics in 2011 with Cars 2, the Cars franchise has lost some of its luster as time has progressed. Just like Lightning, Pixar seems to have decided that it’s time to reroute the Cars franchise back to the roots of racing.
Not only is this crossroads theme prevalent both in the film and in the decision to make a third installment in the franchise, but even in the Road to the Races tour itself. After having the opportunity to speak with the Cars 3 Road to the Races spokesperson Lisa Cabello, we get that sense that Cars 3 is really a return to what makes the Cars franchise so beloved by audiences. In providing an experience for Cars fans to enjoy leading up to the release of Cars 3, Cabello noted how she hopes that audiences re-engage with the beloved characters in a more natural, organic way. The Road to the Races tour provides families with the opportunity to spend time with one another, enjoy the fun activities that are provided, and really celebrate the characters and themes that mean so much to them.
The same is true for the arc that Lightning McQueen follows in his new film. After spending so many years building up his legacy, Lightning begins to realize that his best days might be behind him. However, with the help of Cruz Ramirez and the support of his friends in Radiator Springs, Lightning decides that he’ll give racing one last go, just as Cars 3 is giving the Cars franchise one last go at redeeming the tainted series. Cars 3 seems to acknowledge the franchise’s faults, and redirect the focus of storytelling back onto the love of sport. Only time will tell if Lightning, and the Cars franchise, has any gas left in the tank.
Watch the Trailer: