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Warning: spoilers ahead for Cars 3. Read ahead at your own risk!
Beyond merely correcting course after the last film, Cars 3 presents audiences with a delightful new dynamic between its two lead characters. By the end of the story, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) transforms from a student into a teacher, and Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) gets her chance to become the racer that she has always wanted be under his tutelage. It's a satisfying continuation of Lightning's three-movie arc, and I recently had the opportunity to ask Owen Wilson how he felt about the decision to end Cars 3 this way. As it turns out, although initial drafts of the story gave Lightning more time to shine on his own, the increased emphasis on his dynamic with Cruz worked for Wilson in the end. The actor explained:
The Cars franchise has always worked best when it has focused on the idea of a mentor-mentee relationship. With the original Cars, the franchise leaned heavily on the dynamic between Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) and Lighting, and Cars 3 poetically echoes that story beat by allowing the old-timer to offer sage advice to the franchise newcomer. The parallels were not lost on Owen Wilson, and he gravitated towards the gradually increased emphasis on Cruz as Lightning's pupil. In the end, it all comes full circle in a way that just feels right for this particular story.
Warning: we're about to delve into some much bigger spoilers for Cars 3's big race. You've been warned!
Beyond the decision to evolve the relationship between Cruz and Lightning throughout the story, Cars 3 also makes a major left turn with its final showdown. Specifically, the movie defies all audience expectations by having Lighting tap out of the race to let Cruz take his place and beat Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) in the film's climax. It's a notable departure from typical sports movie tropes, and it works incredibly well to set up the mentorship dynamic.
I asked Owen Wilson if there was ever a version of the story in which Lighting personally finished the race, and he admitted that there was, saying:
Check out the clip below to hear what Owen Wilson had to say about Cars 3's emotional conclusion.
Of course, the fact that some massive changes have taken place in this universe doesn't necessarily mean that the adventures of Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez have come to an end. Elsewhere in my conversation with Owen Wilson about the future of the franchise I had the chance to ask him about where a fourth Cars movie could go from here. According to the actor: now that Lightning McQueen has accepted his new role in life, he thinks a "thriller" adventure is in order for McQueen and Cruz. Cars 4 obviously hasn't received an official announcement yet, but it's an exciting direction to potentially take these characters.