Owen Wilson (2006, 2011- present) Keith Ferguson (2007 - 2017) Ben Rausch (Cars 3: Driven To Win)
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Lightning McQueen (real name Montgomery) is the main protagonist of the Cars franchise. He is a famous race car who has a winning desire which caused some conflict for himself and others. All that is changed when he enters a small town called Radiator Springs after an incident.
First and most importantly, Lightning has insane character development. He starts off as an overconfident and selfish car who takes wanting to win so seriously that he's friendless. Later on, he becomes more sympathetic, friendly, and understanding during his stay at Radiator Springs and meeting some new friends along the way including his best friend Tow Mater.
It's noticeable that because of this, he regrets doing bad things all thanks to this experience.
Even after his arc in the first movie, he still learns from later movies like in Cars 3, which had McQueen learn that "he can't be faster than Jackson Storm, but he can be smarter than him", as Smokey puts it.
The scene where he helps The King (who suffered from a crash caused by Chick Hicks) get to the finish line for a respectable finish was nothing short of touching. What's interesting is that Lightning accepted his loss and was still offered to be the mascot of Dinoco despite him losing, presumably because of Chick's actions even though the latter won. Though he didn't want to be Dinoco's new mascot as he decides to complete his contract with Rust-eze.
He has helped Radiator Springs become popular again just by simply setting up a headquarters in Radiator Springs. Thanks to him, the place is a historical tourist attraction.
He has a running gag in Mater's Tall Tales where every time Lightning refuses to believe Mater's stories, he denies that it's true only for Mater to mention that he was there. And his placement in the stories is pretty funny despite him being a Butt Monkey more often than not.
Cars 3 gives Lightning a bigger role (as the main character back again) much like in the first Cars movie after being a side character in Cars 2. In that movie, Lightning also goes into a massive step in his characterization where he went from a famous race car to a struggling veteran because of the new generation of race cars that perform much better than his kind.
The crash scene from Cars 3 is one of the darkest and most emotional moments in the series. It's so impactful that it can make the viewer feel sorry for a fictional, anthropomorphic car of all things.
Just like his late mentor Doc Hudson, Lightning started to teach Cruz Ramirez ever since they both met. He even went as far as giving up the Florida 500 just to give her another chance at racing (which she definitely made count).
His stories always teach lessons about how there are more important things in life than winning and being famous. In the first film, he helped out The King even at the cost of his victory in the Piston Cup and in Cars 3, he let Cruz finish the race for him (though both Lightning and Cruz share the win as both were on the same team). With that said, he's unique among another Pixar protagonist due to his role.
He strives to be the best at what he does as a racer.
Another unique thing about him is that in the main movies, he always changes his appearance due to his customizations as a car. If you are an engineer who loves to see the vehicles in terms of model type, paint jobs, color schemes, etc., you are going to have a great time checking out all of his different customizations throughout the franchise.
He has a good talent at being the race car that he is today. Yes, even practices as well even though he can outrace each and every of his sport colleagues with little to no effort. That's how humble he is now.
Although still likable, he was somewhat a bit flanderized in Cars 2, since he isn't used much as Mater, which is ironic since Lightning is the main character of the franchise and not Mater, considering his little screen time, explaining that he could've been more of a minor character during that film.
The first movie starts him off as a selfish car before he got character development.
Also, he can still be selfish sometimes even after the first film, like when he got mad at Mater when he lost the Tokyo race in Cars 2 (though it was understandable for him to get angry at Mater because he was the one who caused it), and when he yells at Cruz for having to protect her in a Demolition Derby (which while less understandable then the former, is still fair enough, since Cruz was supposed to train him).
Lightning was originally intended to be based on an updated Corvette design but was changed to a stock car model due to the plot changing.
His design is based on used elements from GT40s and Chargers, among many other models to suit his personality and role.
His number was going to be 57 which was a reference to John Lasseter's birth year. This is even seen in each deleted scene of the first film's bonus features menu.
Athletic figures such as boxer Muhammad Ali and football quarterback Joe Namath were looked to during the development of McQueen's personality, as well as popular musician Kid Rock, in order to create a cocky-but-likable character. Additionally, Michael Jordan was also looked to by the designers, due to his unique style of playing his sport.
The number 95 is a reference to the year 1995 which was the same year that Pixar's first feature-length film Toy Story was released.
Lightning's last name "McQueen" is a reference to Glenn McQueen, a supervising animator at Pixar who passed away in 2002.
In the first official teaser trailer of Cars 2, for unknown reasons, Lightning McQueen has on his Rust-eze customization, which never appeared in the sequel. It may be because the new paint job was not finalized at the time of the release of the teaser trailer.
Likewise, in the first teaser trailer for Cars 3, McQueen is sporting the original Rust-eze logo when he crashes, unlike the final film with the same scene. His first paint job in the film likely wasn't finalized either at the time of the trailer's release.
In the first film, Lightning's back bumper is yellow. This follows NASCAR's tradition of putting yellow rookie stripes on rookie drivers' cars.
Early concept arts suggest that he was originally blue, not red.
There are many memes like "I Decide when I'm Done", "Kerchoo", "I Am Speed", and Lightning's car crash.