My girls are both car-obsessed, and that’s something that I can really get behind. If you ask my wife, she’ll probably say that my enthusiasm is a little overboard. (She says we have too many cars, I say there’s no such thing as “too many,” and the kids agree with me!) With the release of Disney•Pixar’s Cars 3, our car collection has increased. With the latest film and toy line, I’ve been a little bit reflective because I believe the entire onslaught of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars in our house can be traced firmly back to the last movie… 2011’s Cars 2.

Our oldest daughter, Addie, was just 2 when the movie came out, and she was completely enamored with it. Put the pedal to the metal and speed forward six years, and now we have two octane-obsessed daughters. Yet, it’s actually little Finley who is now leading the charge. Even more unexpected? Now Daddy has an inside connection to the world of Radiator Springs and beyond. While Cars 3 is a film that will have some real importance to a lot of people (no spoilers!), if you’re a parent to girls, as I am, this could be a really big deal.

Some weeks back, I had a chance to visit the Pixar Animation Studios campus in Emeryville, California. I met with Jen Tan, creative director of consumer products for Pixar. She gave me a little insight on the process this time around.

With Mattel at the wheel as the master licensee, there’s a bigger assortment of Cars toys than ever before, but that’s just the beginning. “It’s a pretty comprehensive product line from Mattel,” she said, noting that some new players are bringing Cars 3 into the R/C category like never before. “Thinkway is doing the RCs, so there are some things coming out like the Lightning McQueen High Performance Racer – Hobby Grade RC, and we’ve never done that before. Then there’s the Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen. He’s really cool – kind of expensive, but really cool.”

Among the other things they’ve never done before is a massive, 20” version of McQueen. It’s the “biggest Lightning McQueen that Mattel has ever made,” and it even says so right on the package. There’s no electronics here – pure imaginative play, and having seen it played with by kids of several age groups, I think the size appeal is similar to that of JAKKS Pacific’s Big-Figs – it’s just a cool “friend” to have around.

Here at our house, our Cars play is rooted firmly in the diecast collection that Mattel has been expanding for years. A lot of people don’t realize it, but you could say that the diecast is the nuts & bolts of the whole thing. That line has kept Cars in toy departments consistently since 2006. Unlike most movie properties that fade away in a “non-movie year,” Cars has remained. John Lasseter, creator of Cars and now Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Studios Animation and Pixar is among the diecast line’s biggest fans, keeping dozens in his office. Kids and grownups alike still want more.

“This year, we’re making more diecasts than ever before,” adds Tan. “We’re going really deep in all the characters and there’s some cool little feature vehicles in some that, like the Crazy 8’s segment. We really took advantage of that scene because the vehicles are all beat up, so some of the toys are supposed to kind of bump into each other.”

If kid appeal was any doubt, the Crazy 8 Crashers Smash & Crash Derby Playset by Mattel is the hands-down winner for Cars 3 toys with my girls. It’s a simple idea in which the Crazy 8 Crashers can be revved-up and released, smashing into each other with hopes of hitting Miss Fritter just right to make their escape. That said, you can’t force how kids will play, and mine like to lineup their diecast in there to have some epic races.

With so many awesome toys out there, I asked Cars 3 Production Designer Jay Shuster at what point do they open the doors and let folks like Mattel in to get a look at the new characters? My curiosity was piqued, because unlike many films, Pixar focuses on the idea that “story is King,” and that means that things are often in-flex for much of the production. The characters of Cars went through hundreds of iterations. “For us, we like to tantalize the toy companies a little bit,” said Shuster during a presentation at Sonoma Raceway. “Since our job is to make a great movie, we have to focus on that, but we also have to let them in, so we wait until the last possible minute.”

Likewise, the toys themselves remained under wraps until just six weeks before the film releases in theaters. While there have been female characters in previous Cars films, there has never been a character like Cruz Ramirez. The  new film features some big themes about mentorship and self-confidence, and Cruz is a powerful character. On the surface, she’s a racing trainer capable of hanging with next-generation racers with a top speed far beyond McQueen, but her significance goes far beyond that. Telling you any more would encroach on spoiler territory, but let’s just say there will be no shortage of Cruz gear racing into stores. “I’m actually really excited that there’s some more female racers in the film, so we really pushed to have Cruz in every assortment,” said Tan. Those other female characters include Natalie Certain, Shannon Spokes, and the history-based Louise “Barnstormer” Nash.

One of our favorite Cruz items is the Movie Moves vehicle (with cool lights and sounds). Another winner is Just Play’s massive Mack’s Mobile Tool Center. It gives kids some hands-on, mechanic-style play as they build and repair Lightning McQueen. Mack opens up into a full garage/workshop, packed with tools and accessories, along with some fun lights and sounds.


Back to the Crazy 8s, parents fear not! It should be noted that, unlike what you’ll see on the big screen, the toys won’t be a mess. “Mud not included,” added Jen Tan. “We try to keep it easy for the moms and dads!”

Disney•Pixar’s Cars 3 is in theaters on June 16, 2017. The toys are now available everywhere.

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, a Senior Editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and Editor of The Toy Report, The Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a Senior Editor and moved up the ranks to Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief.