The women of CARS 3 add power, heart & tenacity to the revved up engine


Lighting McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo) in CARS 3. Courtesy of Disney-Pixar.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Though Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is still very much a major player in director Brian Fee’s CARS 3, it’s the newest female characters, who really help drive home the empowering message of the narrative. They are strong. They are smart. They are inspiring personalities.

In this third chapter of our beloved four-wheeled hero’s adventures, #95 is wrestling a huge career decision: whether or not to retire from the job he loves so dearly. Reticent to give it up too quickly, McQueen is assigned a peppy, talented trainer – Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo) – to help get his motor humming in peak form again. As he sees the passion for the sport give Cruz a fuel-injected boost to her self-confidence, he in turn discovers a new engine.

At the film’s recent Los Angeles press conference, Alonzo said that it was her character’s intellect and emotional arc that convinced her to take the part.

It really is about skill. We don’t really reference that she is a girl. We don’t reference that she is a female driver. We actually talk about how good she is and we see it in the story. It’s one of those lessons that we tend to forget about. It’s not about a boy or a girl doing something. It’s about the best person doing the best that they can. Such a great way to get a story about female empowerment by reminding everybody that we’re pretty much all alike and we’re all the same. If you work hard and have the skill, whoever is the best will win.

Kerry Washington, who voices ace statistic analyst Natalie Certain, loved that this was a project that teaches everyone to rise to their challenges – specifically women.

It’s fun to see women in the film who are brave, smart, courageous and teachable. That balance of having talent and intellect, but also are humble enough to learn the lessons they have to learn by the end of the film – to learn that you have to step into your greatness, which they learn isn’t as simple as numbers. That heart and passion is the most important thing.

For Lea DeLaria, who voices demolition derby schoolbus Miss Fritter, the animators attention to detail really came as a surprise.

They used my high school on the side of the bus, which I think is amazing. And the license plate is my birthday. They called me and asked and next thing I knew… I just think that’s kind of great.

Natalie Certain (voiced by Kerry Washington) and Miss Fritter (voiced by Lea DeLaria) in CARS 3. Courtesy of Disney-Pixar.

Armie Hammer, who voices arrogant antagonist Jackson Storm, was thrilled to be a part of something with such an inspiring sentiment at its core, especially since he has a young daughter.

The fact that there’s a strong female figure who’s told, ‘You can be anything you want,’ as a father of a girl, I love that. To be able to be part of a movie that can carry on that message, I’m happy.

Fee, who also has a daughter, was very conscientious about the message CARS 3 send to all kids about inclusivity.

I want my daughter to never be afraid to try something because they think they’re not going to be good at it. I never want to hear them to say certain things are for boys and certain things are for girls.

Washington was struck by the empowerment theme, particularly when she viewed the film with her mom and daughter.

[It] was really special to have three generations of women watching this film that’s so much about empowerment and inclusivity for women. It really resonated for all three of us. It’s such an honor to be part of something that embraces everybody’s heart. It’s very special to be a part of that as a woman – as a woman of color.

Alonzo thinks that the message isn’t exclusively about gender, but rather something more universal.

It’s not really about boys and girls. I approach it as an economic level. I grew up poor. I want poor kids to know they have a shot at doing something. The lessons surpass gender. For me, I think we don’t have enough stories about female characters actually in a world with male characters where they get to succeed in a way that isn’t romantic. It’s just being empowered and succeeding. It’s any kid that feels disenfranchised, disappointed, like they don’t belong. This is the story for them. It’s a story about hope.

Washington concurred,

There are a lot of people who feel like an outsider. No matter what the specifics are about why they feel like an outsider or disenfranchised, no matter what that looks like for you, you can identify with Cruz. It will resonate with all kinds of people. What’s so special is that there’s room for the mentor and the mentee. There’s room for the champion and the newcomer. If we work together, there’s room for everyone at the table.

CARS 3 opens on June 16.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.