Cars 3

In case you didn’t see, /Film was invited to screen a bunch of footage from Cars 3, which is about half the movie. You can read through our detailed reaction to the footage to see how it holds up against not just the rest of the Cars franchise but also Pixar’s body of work in general. But we wanted to call specific attention to a particular new character in the sequel who elevates the movie to a place that the Cars franchise has never reached before, at least from my perspective.

Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) is a yellow 2017 CRS Sports Coupe who works as a trainer at the new Rust-eze Racing Center where Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is hoping to get the same state of the art technological training that has turned his rival Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) into a finely tuned racing machine who is dominating the track. She’s tech-savvy and upbeat and has no problems telling McQueen how slow and old he is, despite the fact that she’s been a big fan of his for years.

Initially it appears like this character is just a means to an end for Lightning McQueen to win yet another race, but a turn comes when the emotional core of Cars 3 is revealed, and the big beating heart of this sequel is just what the franchise needs. Find out more about Cruz Ramirez in Cars 3 after the jump, but beware of possible spoilers.

Cars 3 Concept Art

Cruz Ramirez Was Originally Male and a Farmer

When I sat down for an interview with director Brian Fee to talk about Cars 3 (we’ll share the full interview soon), I asked him what some of the huge changes were made between early development and the long road that a Pixar movie has to take before the story is finalized (which still fluctuates even while the film is being animated). It turns out one of the major changes involved the character of Cruz Ramirez. While the character is a female race trainer in the final version of Cars 3 we’ll see this summer; originally the character was a male farmer. Brian Fee explained:

“Cruz was a male character. The story took place in central California. Cruz was a farmer and was completely different. McQueen was just on this journey throughout the central valley of California and he happened upon Cruz. He was kinda handcuffed with Cruz throughout the journey. We always had a mentor story looking at McQueen and Doc’s relationship and then looking at McQueen and Cruz’s relationship. Then the story went through completely different changes where we kept that mentorship, but we moved them across the country to the South, and we were looking at McQueen’s career as a racer a little more.”

Eventually, Cruz became female and received the design that you see in the concept art above. But for a brief while, the mentorship part of the story took a backseat to the movie becoming a more typical sports flick with the mentoring element used as more of an undercurrent. But Pixar determined that angle wasn’t working, and they brought that mentor relationship back to the core of the movie. It’s a good thing they did because it gives Cruz a wonderful story arc where it’s not just about her helping McQueen.

cars3-cruzramirez-earpiece

Cruz Ramirez’s Secret

In the footage presentation shown to us, the final sequence that we saw in Pixar’s private theater had Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez getting into an argument. McQueen flat out tells her that she doesn’t understand racing because she’s just a trainer, and he’s sick of wasting his time trying to get her to understand where he needs to be in order to get his career back on track. Suddenly, Cruz loses her chipper personality and gets somber and serious.

Cruz Ramirez tells Lightning that she didn’t have dreams of becoming the trainer who prepares other cars to hit the race track. She wanted to be a racer herself. In this heartfelt scene, she explains how she loved racing growing up and saved all her money to go to the races and studied the sport her whole life. During this story she still refers to Lightning as Mr. McQueen, showing the respect that she still has for her fallen idol, even in this vulnerable time. She’s a car who has racing in her heart, and she wanted to be a racer because of Lightning McQueen.

Even though her family told her to “dream small,” she still persevered and made strides towards become a real racer. But when she entered her first race, she felt out of place. She says the other racers didn’t look anything like her because they were all so big and confident, just the sound of their engines said as much. And she gave up.

This adds such a meaningful layer to her character. Cruz Ramirez isn’t a character who was held back by a glass ceiling or adversity but only her own self-doubt. In comparing herself to the racers around her, she feels inadequate, out of place, and unable to follow through on her dreams. That’s something that anyone can identify with, but there’s a thread here, albeit possibly but doubtfully unintentional, that ties Cruz’s story to that of immigrant families and the difficulty children from these units have in succeeding because they’re intimidated by the status quo. This especially holds significance with a comedian like Cristela Alonzo voicing the character. Producer Kevin Reher even says:

“We were inspired by Cristela’s story. Stand-up comedy is an intimidating industry for a newcomer and Cristela had to find her way despite huge odds. Cruz’s passion for racing is pretty reflective of Cristela’s experience.”

Cruz Ramirez is a character that will resonate with anyone who has ever had self-doubt and lacked confident in themselves. It’s not just a character meant to appeal to female audiences, though that will be a side-effect of her creation, but a character that gives a voice to those who maybe need the right motivation and encouragement to succeed in following their dreams.

Cars 3

The Future of the Franchise?

Cruz Ramirez is a prominent character in Cars 3, but since we’ve only seen half the movie, we don’t entirely know where she ends up just yet. However, knowing her backstory and the obstacles that she has to overcome, I have a feeling that Cruz will eventually realize her dream to become a racer. In fact, since this movie is about Lightning McQueen, perhaps in the last leg of his career, I think this would be a fine time to pass the torch of the franchise from McQueen to Ramirez. And it seems as if Pixar might be thinking that too.

Right now there is a traveling Cars 3: Road to the Races tour that has life-size versions of Lightning McQueen, Cruz Ramirez and Jackson Storm for fans to see and take pictures with. What’s interesting is that Cruz Ramirez looks a little different than she does in all the footage that we’ve seen so far. Here’s an image of the real-life Cruz Ramirez:

Cars 3 - Cruz Ramirez Real-Life

Notice anything different from how she looks in the above images? Not only does she have those blue rims, but she also has some noticeable aesthetic changes that indicate she becomes a race car. Not only does she become a race car, but she’s sponsored by the big time fuel company Dinoco, the company that Lightning McQueen was so desperate to land in the first Cars movie.

This isn’t a look that we saw the character have in any of the footage screened at Pixar and there isn’t a single shot of her in the trailer with these modifications. There’s a chance this is just a cosmetic change to make her look a little cooler on display, but more than likely, it’s because, by the end of Cars 3, she finally follows her dream of being a racer. And who better to continue the Cars franchise than a character who had to overcome her own self-doubt in order to reach her goals.

Here’s hoping Cruz Ramirez actually becomes a racer and carries on the franchise. If you want to see Cruz in person, see where the tour is stopping through the spring and early summer over here. Otherwise, we’ll see what happens when Cars 3 arrives on June 12.

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