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‘Cars 3’ Extended Look: Don’t Count Lightning McQueen (Or Pixar) Out Yet

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To kids, Cars is a signature Pixar franchise, known for that little red race car, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson). To older Pixar fans, Cars is known as Pixar’s red-headed stepchild, well below the rest of the venerable animation studio’s output. Cars was never particularly well-liked in the first place and then along came Cars 2 which was wild and weird and not particularly great (although the movie is so wild and weird it’s kind of interesting).

And now here comes Cars 3, to extend the franchise and sell plenty more little red race cars. Will it get the franchise back on track? (Or, depending on your point of view, on track for the very first time?) Here’s the official synopsis from Disney:

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!

Two impressions from this trailer and that story. First of all: This is Pixar doing a Rocky sequel. The idea of Lightning having lost his edge, and having to relearn his craft to beat a talented young upstart, that is straight-up Rocky III. And Rocky III is a great sequel, probably the best of the entire series (if we don’t count Creed) and a smart template for a sports movie like a Cars.

My other impression is that this whole storyline about Lightning could be a way for Pixar to take stock of its own position within the film world. For a long time, they were they can’t miss hitmakers, with one remarkable critical and commercial smash after another. They were young, they were brilliant, they were the best. In 2016, Pixar is still revered, but they’re not as young or, frankly, as consistently brilliant as they once were, and they have their own young competition nipping at their heels. So can Pixar muster some new magic along with Lightning McQueen? That’s the question we’ll find out when Cars 3 opens in theaters on June 16.

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