- In the original Cars movie, the interior of McQueen's trailer was basically a personal shrine to himself, littered with his posters and merchandise on every wall. In Cars 3 however, the number of scenes he has inside it shows that his new trailer is now simpler in design, with Carburetor Canyon-inspired wallpaper and a collage of photos from Radiator Springs. On its own from the others is a photograph of Sally and a photograph of Doc as his crew chief. This remains a fine visual representation of McQueen's Character Development and his attachment to Radiator Springs and the cars who live there.
- A second representation of such would be the pictures of Lightning on his trailer; in the first film, he does some sort of "tough guy" pose for the sides and has an "oh yeah" look for the door. Here, those poses were changed to nice, confident relaxed versions, showing he no longer cares about just himself. The large strikes of lightning from behind his picture on the sides were also removed and replaced with the same flaming lightning bolts he has, representing he is no longer spoiled.
- A third would be the opening scene at the Dinoco Light 350; the song "Run That Race" plays in the background. It seems to be a nicer counterpart to "Real Gone" in the first film — the former is a fast, hard rock song in a minor key with a touch of "It's All About Me", alluding to Lightning's old self when he was a narcissistic, uncaring snob. The latter is a still-energetic yet happier pop rock song in a major key, which expresses Lightning's love of racing with the other cars and alludes to his new selfless and caring image.
- Lightning clearly was having a great time as a racer at the start of the film. He's cordial with the racers around him, and even among his hottest rivals (before Storm) it's more a Friendly Rivalry rather than what was to come.
- Right after Lighting crashes, it cuts to his friends who immediately rush over to check on him, with Sally being the first to get to him.
- Lightning tries his best to fix the trophy Cruz won at the Demolition Derby that he broke while they were arguing.
- Smokey showing Lightning a wall of newspaper clippings that Doc had sent him of Lightning's wins. Doc had isolated himself for 50 years from his friends after he couldn't race and Smokey and co. had no idea where he'd gone. And then Doc started sending letters back home to his old friends, all about Lightning.Smokey: Yeah, Hud loved racing... but coaching you? I'd never seen the old grump so happy. Racing wasn't the best part of Hud's life. You were.
- Smokey's words speak volumes of McQueen's relationship with Doc. Seeing that it's implied, even in the first film, that due to Doc's obsession with racing pre-crash and his isolation afterwards, he likely never settled down. Lightning wasn't just Doc's student. He was his son.
- The flashback sequence of Lightning and Doc training together is definitely adorable. Lightning's reaction shot after the flashback works, too.
- Lightning McQueen does a move worthy of his history. He realizes that as much as he wants to stay in the game, Ramirez never got a chance to be a racer, and much like when he gave up the cup to help The King, he gives up his race spot to Ramirez so she can be a real racer now. MID-RACE!
- Lightning McQueen, Crew Chief of Dinoco, full circle relationship with Doc Hudson as the self-proclaimed "Fabulous Lightning McQueen".
- Not only that, but Lightning has finally, albeit circuitously, gotten his wish to join Dinoco's racing team. He may not be driving for them, but that he finally gets to wear the blue feels like a final reward for those who followed him from the beginning.
- Cruz is wearing Doc Hudson's number. Smokey says it was Lightning's idea. It speaks volumes about how much Lightning thinks of Cruz. And between his own paint job and her number, he's making sure that his mentor's memory lives on in racing.
- A lot of the end credit pictures:
- Lightning and Cruz taking a picture with little Maddy McGear, who was previously seen cheering them on.
- Cruz seen with a number of trophies inside her new trailer; looks like she has found her place.
- Lightning brings his friends from Radiator Springs to the places he's visited on his journey, including the Rust-Eze Racing Center, Thunder Hollow, and Thomasville. In the pictures, Lightning's friends are shown trying out the training equipment while Mater gets to take part in the Crazy 8 demolition derby and hang out with Miss Fritter for a night of karaoke.
- The Rust-eze brothers are seen enjoying their retirement, vacationing on the beach.
- Mater excitedly cheers on Lightning in all the races in the film. He's clearly having a blast watching his best friend race.
- This is also a heartwarming Call-Back to Cars 2, since Mater being at McQueen's races means that Lightning kept his promise from that movie.
- A meta-example, but the fact that John Lasseter was insistent on having Paul Newman reprise his role as Doc, despite his death in 2008, deserves bit of a mention here.
- Pixar had twenty-eight hours worth of Paul Newman's voice work to use.
- The entire Florida 500 is heartwarming when it isn't busy being awesome.
- McQueen's phone call with Mater is very sweet. McQueen's at a low point, and Mater helps him out just by being Mater. They may not share a ton of screentime in this movie, but what time they do share really shows how great their friendship is.
- The original Rust-Eze brothers sold their company and sponsorship to a richer investor in order to help Lightning McQueen out and give him the tools they couldn't afford, like a high tech state of the art training facility. Lightning stuck by with them over Dinoco all these years and they're grateful.Lightning: Well, I am sure going to miss racing for you guys.Rusty: You know, you gave us a lot of great memories Lightning, memories we'll remember.
- After the Rust-eze brothers leave, Lightning looks around the facility, seeing the large walls of his memorabilia, some of which are Call Backs to the first movie.
- One of the photos is of Lightning leaping into the air from the crash in the first movie. Cruz later references this scene during their argument after Thunder Hollow.
- A picture of Doc as McQueen's pit chief is shown, next to three small jars of dirt. The samples are taken from the Hudson Hornet's three main racing tracks: Fireball Beach, Thunder Hollow and Thomasville, all of which McQueen visits throughout the film.
- There is also a piece of asphalt that was taken from the track where Lightning won his first race. This is also a meta-example as the track was called Glen Ellen, named after the late Glenn McQueen, the Pixar animator that Lightning himself was named after.
- At the finale, Tex pulls a Cut Lex Luthor a Check and hires Cruz on the spot and buys out not only McQueen's contract, but Rust-eze. No hem, no haw. The old rich guy whom McQueen impressed two movies ago drops a hundred million dollars at least to make the movie end on a happy note.
- Pretty much the entire finale sequence where Lightning is not only still a racer, but also a teacher just like Doc was to him, will leave the audience crying happily. And the playful Snark-to-Snark Combat between Cruz and Lightning counts too:Lightning: So, ready to start training?
Cruz: I don't know. You ready to lose again?
Lightning: Oh!...Hope you got your fluffy cloud!
Cruz: I hope you got your drip pan!
Lightning: Got my drip pan, and I've takin' my nap!
Cruz: Bring it on, old man!
Lightning: Oh, I'm gonna keep racing! But before that, I had something I wanna do... [Cuts to him giving Cruz her first driving lesson at Willy's Butte]
- The banter between them also goes to show that Lightning's come to accept that, compared to the latest racers, he is old... but he's not gonna let that annoy him anymore and he's still the same, good-natured, expert racer he's always been.
- Before this, there was Lightning's decision upon winning the bet that made every single audience member happy:
- It's nice to see the cars of Radiator Springs cheer for Cruz and embrace her as one of their own.
- Though it is a tearjerker, right when Lightning hits the wall sending him into a crash, you can see two racers in behind look completely horrified as he flies into the screen. This shows at least a few of the next-gens have empathy for the famous legendary racer.
- This extends to the Friendly Rivalry that the same next-gens begin with Cruz, showing that she has, finally, gained her racing stripes.
- The end finale song "Ride", played over the end credits. It totally expresses both Lightning and Cruz's views throughout the story — the former with his love of racing, and the latter with her excitement at being a racer and learning the skills from her idol (as the second verse describes).I used to sit inside my room
Dreamin' of things that I could do
Too scared to put my hands up on the wheel
Now I'm with you, and I can't look back
It's such a rush where I'm movin' fast
I can't deny the way you make me feel
- The very last scene of the movie shows a picture of Lightning and Cruz racing together at Willy's Butte hanging on the wall of Doc's garage, next to the picture of Lightning and Doc racing in the exact same poses. Our favorite racing legend now has a protégé of his own, who hopes to become the best racer ever.
- After the Florida 500, it seems the movie is going to have a Bittersweet Ending since Lightning gave his place to Cruz halfway through causing him to lose the bet with Sterling. But right when he is about to accept his fate, the winner board is updated so that his own name is right under Cruz's. He wins the bet and gets to keep his career, giving the film a Surprisingly Happy Ending instead, and the best one in the franchise ever!
- The song from the final part of the Florida 500, "Victory Lane", is a perfect call-back to the first film. A lot of the instrumentals are dead-on matches to the music from the tiebreaker race, ending with one final crescendo. This same piece of track is used in the last part of the closing credits, to give them a big finish.
- The music during the closing logo is a reprise of "Letters To You", the theme from when Lightning is in Smokey's garage reminiscing of all the wonderful times he had with Doc. It's a great way to end the film off.
- Before Cruz takes over for Lightning:Cruz: Why are you doing this? You said it yourself: This might be your last chance!
Lightning: Which makes it my last chance...to give you your first chance Cruz. This time, I want you to take it.
- The entirety of the tie-in book "Lead The Way", in which Lightning is narrating to Cruz and the reader about being a good leader and what comes with it.
- A promo reel shows Lightning and Cruz tire bumping each other. It's cute.
- An ad for Alamo features Lightning and Cruz recounting their favorite parts of the movie, with Cruz saying the phrase "Hashtag (noun)" following each one.
- At the beginning of the deleted scene More Than New Paint, Sterling tells Lightning hes been taken off the racing circuit and rips his #95 off to give it to Cruz, much to his disappointment. However, the audience still wants to see Lightning race, so Tex has an idea: at the last minute Lightning is given Doc Hudson's colors and #51 under the Dinoco banner, so he can participate in the race after all!
- If one thinks about it, the entire movie can be seen as a tribute to the late Paul Newman, which is fitting considering most, if not all of the movie focuses on the impact Doc had on Lightning and how he made him a better person- er car.
- Made better that Pixar had 25 hours worth of audio of Paul Newman from the first movie, as a way to give him one last hurrah and making the line "There was a lot left in me" that Doc utters less depressing and more heartwarming considering Newman was able to give out one last performance.
Kid's got a lot of stuff...eh, Doc?