Much to the delight of the kids – and the kids at heart – all over, Disney has decided to go back to the drawing board with its hit machine franchise, Cars.
But then, it’s never really gone away, has it? Sure, we haven’t seen an entry in the series since 2011’s Cars 2, and it didn’t get quite the same critical reception as the first movie. Of course, in all fairness, the first movie had the novelty of a full cast of talking cars working in its favour, a sheen that wore off a little the second time ’round.
That’s the surface reason; look more deeply, and the argument could be made that the second movie – which was rife with James Bond-like exploits that no normal person would ever experience – lost some of that great grassroots element that made the first movie so endearing. That movie featured cars doing normal-ish things: squinting at the sun through bleary eyes in the morning, getting a physical, watering the flowers, even some late-night teenage hijinx – all perfectly normal stuff that was so cool to see being done by friendly four-wheeled friends.
Most of all, though, that first movie was about the cars above all else, and it checked off so many car categories: import tuners, Italian exotics, stock car racers, off-road trucks, lowriders; all present and accounted for. The cars are the key, evidenced by the fact that the Walmarts and Toys "R" Us’s of the world continue to stock all manner of scale models of the cars, some of which don’t even have speaking parts in the series.
The previews for the franchise’s third instalment seem to have gone back to the series’ roots, and we can’t wait.
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)
While NASCAR racers are, technically, all the same car in real life – there are rules, you know – they do get a comprehensive sticker set in order to differentiate the Chevrolets, Fords and Toyotas that compete. While Lighting’s character does start off as a racer on the Piston Cup (the Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup of the Cars universe), he bears no features that designate his real-world inspiration. Obviously, you don’t want your main character taking sides, right? The “McQueen” element, however, is an obvious reference to actor and sometime race driver Steve McQueen.
Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt)
Well, with a name like “Carrera”, there isn’t much left to the imagination, right? Indeed, she is a purple – perhaps “Vesuvio” in Porsche speak – 911 Carrera (996) with Turbo wheels but with a cheeky little tattoo on her engine cover, revealed only when her adaptive rear spoiler – yes, the actual 996 had this feature – is in the raised position. Clever.
Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy)
You have to think that while Disney envisioned Lightning as the series’ main character, the popularity of Tow Mater the tow truck caught even them by surprise; the numerous digital shorts that have appeared over the years tend to feature him above all else. Even the second movie reduced Lightning to an almost background figure, involved mainly with racing as opposed to the exploits of the rest of the case; Mater was actually more instrumental to the story itself. While his vehicular inspiration may not be so obvious to the general populace, true classic truck people should be able to identify him as an International Harvester tow or “boom” truck, a fact reaffirmed by a display in Galena, KS of a life-size version of the character parked right beside one of the trucks that inspired his creators.
Ramone (Cheech Marin)
I guess Ramone is the closest thing you’ll find to a hair stylist in the Cars universe; after all, he does the paintwork for everyone – and yes, that includes Von Dutch striping and flamejobs – and what more can a car do when it comes to personal grooming? At any rate, he’s clearly based on a 1959 Chevrolet Impala or Biscayne; his “cat-eye” taillights leave little doubt.
Flo (Jenifer Lewis)
While Ramone makes 'em look good, the proud proprietor of Flo’s V8 Cafe in Radiator Springs keeps their tanks full. There, she serves all manner of petrol, from regular to high octane. She’s a not-quite-exact re-imagination of the Motorama cars of the 1950s, looking like a cross between the Buick LeSabre and XP-300 concepts.
Sarge (Paul Dooley)
He’s crotchety, he’s old and he suffers no fools. While we’re never fully made aware of Sarge’s history, you kind of get the feeling he’s been through the trenches and back again -- perhaps more than once -- if his rough-and-tumble Jeep Willys MB digs are any indication.
Luigi (Tony Shalhoub)
An excitable little car, this one – especially when a “R-r-r-real Michael Schumacher Ferrari” is in town. “Little” is right; they don’t get much littler than the Fiat Cinquecento on which this little tire salesman is based. Look closely, and you’ll even spot a very Italian gentleman-esque combover.
Guido (Guido Caroni)
Luigi does the selling, and his right-hand man – well, right-hand forklift, anyway – does the “cobbling”, as it were: fitting the white-a-wall tires and making the residents looks their Sunday best when it’s time to cruise the boulevard. He’s quick, too, able to perform a tire stop faster than most crew teams can. Hard to tell which vehicle underlies that smiling mug; perhaps an Iso Isetta, if they could ever fit it with forks and hydraulics?
Smokey (Chris Cooper)
Making his debut in Cars 3 is Smokey the service truck, based on a Hudson Pickup from the ’40s. We’ll have to wait until we see the movie to learn more, but early reports have Smokey as a mentor for Doc Hudson from Cars, voiced by the late Paul Newman and based on a Hudson Hornet from the same era.
Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo)
Once again, we have a car that’s a little magnanimous in its inspiration; considering that Cruz is around to act as a personal trainer tasked with getting Lightning back in shape after a bad crash – and may actually do a little bit of racing in the film – we can picture her as a slightly smaller version of the NASCAR hodgepodge that goes into McQueen’s character.
Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer)
Another not-so-easy to define racecar, Jackson Storm will likely act as the main foil for protagonist McQueen. Reports have Storm, a custom-built racer, embodying a “new breed” of racer in the Cars universe, making use of virtual reality and simulators for training.
Junior “Midnight” Moon (Junior Johnson)
In the first film, Lightning was inspired – and eventually coached – by an old stock car racer in Doc Hudson. That, however, was pretty much the extent of the content from the earliest days of stock car racing. Cars 3 appears to be making more use of that well, with the appearance of Junior Moon, styled to represent the ’40 Ford Coupe Johnson originally converted from rum runner to racer. Oh, and the name of the real Junior Johnson’s moonshine company? Midnight Moon Moonshine.
Jeff Gorvette (Jeff Gordon)
NASCAR Golden Boy Jeff Gordon reprises his Jeff Gorvette (Geddit?) role from Cars 2, once again looking like a Corvette C6.R race car. I guess the cars in the Cars universe don’t quite follow the generational shifts in the real world that saw the C6.R be replaced by the C7.R in 2014.
Hamilton (Lewis Hamilton)
Not content to let NASCAR have all the fun, Disney turned to F1 Champion Lewis Hamilton for some voice work for Cars 2. Unlike the actual Lewis Hamilton’s open-wheeled F1 car, however, the Cars version is based on the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 sports car racer. In Cars 3, Hamilton has been brought along to help Cruz whip McQueen back into shape.
Miss Ritter (Lea DeLaria)
A demolition derby bus? With a buzzsaw for a stop sign? Why the heck not? Looking like something a roller-derby contestant would if roller derbys existed in the Cars universe, she appears to be based on either a Dodge or GMC school bus from the '50s. The real question, though, is how she'll relate to the other characters in the film, most notably rust-bound Mater. A love interest, perhaps?
Bonus: Mia and Tia (Lindsay Collins and Elissa Knight)
The lovable Mazta Miata twins were McQueen's biggest fans (according to them, anyway) in the first movie, cheering him on with enthusiasm and eventually getting themselves much sought-after carhop gigs at Flo's V8 Cafe. They were reduced to cameo roles in the Cars 2 movie, however, and it's unsure whether or not we'll see them in the upcoming third entry.