Heist Stakes: 5 heist movies to set your adrenaline pumping

Heist Stakes

In anticipation of Logan Lucky, here are five other caper flicks to check out

By Jedd Jong

The heist comedy Logan Lucky has been called “redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, eschewing the glitz and glamour of high-end Las Vegas casinos for the dusty heartland that is home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Steven Soderbergh, who directed the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, was drawn to Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay for Logan Lucky because it felt like the antithesis of the cool, slick Ocean’s movies.

Heist movies are a particularly captivating film genre: they can be light-hearted romps or intense affairs filled with double-crosses and clever gambits, and audiences enjoy seeing a complex robbery come together, then unfold – but not always according to plan. Sometimes it’s a team of scrappy underdogs reclaiming what they feel is rightfully theirs – like the Logan family in Logan Lucky. Other times, our heroes are seasoned career criminals who must outfox dogged law enforcement agents to pull off an intricate heist.

Before (or after, we won’t judge) you catch Logan Lucky in theatres, delve into the realm of fiendishly clever schemes, honour among thieves and best-laid plans going awry with these five heist movies.

#1: OCEAN’S ELEVEN

This 2001 remake of the 1960 film of the same name has arguably overtaken the original in terms of impact on pop culture at large. The 1960 film starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson – the 2001 film matched that star power with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts. Clooney’s Danny Ocean hatches a plan to simultaneously rob the Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos on the Vegas strip, assembling a team of highly-skilled experts to help him pull off the job. Johnny Depp was considered for the Linus Caldwell role, and Mark Wahlberg was briefly attached to the part, but Matt Damon clinched the role instead. Director Steven Soderbergh and the main cast would return for two sequels: Ocean’s Twelve in 2004, and Ocean’s Thirteen in 2007. Soderbergh said that after the death of Bernie Mac, who played Frank Catton, a fourth film would be unlikely. Instead, we can look forward to the all-female spinoff Ocean’s Eight, starring Sandra Bullock as Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie, alongside Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna, which will be released in June 2018.

#2: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

Based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Morton Freedood (under the pen name ‘John Godey’), The 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is considered one of the best thrillers of the 70s. The film is about four hijackers who commandeer a New York City subway train, demanding $ 1 million to be delivered within the hour, and promising to kill one passenger per minute after the deadline expires. The leader of the hijackers, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) faces off against Transit Authority police lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walther Matthau) in a game of wits, with the lives of 17 passengers hanging in the balance. The Transit Authority of New York was reluctant to allow director Joseph Sargent to film in the actual subway, fearing that the movie would inspire train hijackings. The film was mostly filmed in the tunnels leading to the decommissioned IND Court St. station in Brooklyn, with the station doubling for Grand Central and 28th St. stations. The station is now home to the New York City Transit Museum. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was remade as a TV movie in 1998 starring Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio, then as a feature film in 2009 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

#3: ENTRAPMENT

This 1999 thriller may not have the glowing critical acclaim enjoyed by the other entries on this list, but it is a sentimental favourite for this writer. In Entrapment, undercover investigator Vriginia “Gin” Baker (Catherine Zeta-Jones) becomes entangled with debonair gentleman art thief Robert “Mac” MacDougal (Sean Connery). Their partnership culminates in a plot to steal $8 billion from the International Clearance Bank located in the North Tower of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on New Year’s Eve of 1999-2000. Malaysian viewers baulked at a scene in which a shantytown is depicted a short distance from the Petronas Towers. The shantytown is in Malacca and was superimposed over a shot of the Towers. While certainly not the first to feature a thief weaving through a ‘laser tripwire’ security system, Entrapment was one of the films that codified the trope. The film was not-so-subtly marketed with trailers prominently featuring Zeta-Jones in a slinky catsuit seductively squirming between thin red threads, as Gin practices for the heist. The leading man and lady of the film are separated by a staggering 39 years, but Connery’s charm is almost enough for it not to seem icky. Almost.

#4: INCEPTION

Christopher Nolan’s film, often cited as a foremost example of the “thinking person’s blockbuster”, puts a sci-fi twist on the heist movie formula. The film’s protagonist Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a specialist in stealing not money or diamonds, but ideas, entering the minds of his marks as they dream. He is given the near-impossible task of planting an idea, or “incepting”, but Dom is haunted by the memory late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), impairing his ability to pull off the mission. The cast also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine. By combining spectacular action set-pieces with heady themes that muse on the subjectivity of dreams and reality, all enacted by a stellar cast, Nolan created an indelible experience that filmgoers eagerly discussed, dissected and watched repeatedly. Inception’s mind-bending dreamscapes were brought to life with a mix of practical and digital effects, including a 30-metre-long rotating set used to film the signature Zero-G hotel hallway fight sequence. The film won four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for four more, including Best Picture.

#5: HEAT

With his 1995 crime thriller Heat, Michael Mann elevated the cops-and-robbers movie to a fine art. Like any good heist movie, there’s a cat-and-mouse element at the heart of Heat: professional thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is relentlessly pursued by LAPD detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) of the robbery-homicide division. The film is praised for featuring some of the best performances from its leading men (before either fully settled on accepting roles in bad movies to pay the bills) and for its elaborate action sequences, including an epic street shootout and a climactic confrontation at the LAX airport. Heat also stars Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, William Fichtner and Natalie Portman.

The film was a remake of a television pilot that Michael Mann had made. The pilot wasn’t picked up to series, but aired as a TV movie called L.A. Takedown. This was in turn inspired by true events: the real-life Neil McCauley was a former inmate at Alcatraz who was eventually hunted down by Chicago police officer Chuck Adamson in 1964. Because of the violent, explicit depiction of the heists, Heat was cited as an inspiration for a spate of real-life armoured car robberies. The 1997 North Hollywood shootout, involving a faceoff between bank-robbers and the LAPD, was often compared to Heat. In the realm of film, Christopher Nolan took inspiration from Heat for The Dark Knight, also a sprawling crime epic.

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Cruising Altitude: the high-flying escapades of Tom Cruise

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Cruising altitude: the high-flying escapades of Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise plays a pilot in American Made – here are five other times planes and other flying machines have figured in his movies

By Jedd Jong

The story of pilot Barry Seal is one that’s stranger than fiction: Seal went from being a commercial pilot for TWA to becoming a drug courier for the Medellín Cartel, a gunrunner for the Contras and the CIA, and a DEA informant. In the biopic American Made, Seal is played by Tom Cruise, and it’s easy to believe that Cruise can smirk and wink his way out of any sticky situation. Seal makes various daring take-offs from remote Colombian jungles, the underbelly of his cocaine-laden plane scraping the tree tops. One of the film’s most memorable scenes features Seal crash-landing on a residential street after he’s pursued by the DEA, tumbling out of his plane covered in cocaine, handing a bundle of cash to a bewildered kid and escaping on said kid’s bicycle.

Cruise is a certified pilot in real life, and owns a collection of planes including a WWII-era P-51 Mustang. The actor has built a reputation for doing more of his own stunts than any insurance company would be comfortable with, and he pulled off yet another hair-raising feat in American Made. Not only did Cruise do some of his own flying in the film, he left the cockpit with no one else in the plane for scenes in which Seal had to dump cocaine out the back of the plane. Director Doug Liman, who was flying alongside Cruise in a helicopter shooting the scene, was both terrified and thrilled by the commitment displayed by his leading man. “It’s one thing to have Tom Cruise alone in the airplane flying it — that’s already outrageous — now he’s alone and he’s not even in the cockpit so he’s gone beyond,” Liman said. “It was already a stunt before he left the cockpit, it was already a serious stunt.”

Before you watch Cruise wing it in American Made, here are five other times he’s been in the pilot’s seat – or somewhere less safe – on a plane or other flying vehicle in his movie career.

#1: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

The Mission: Impossible movie franchise has become synonymous with crazy Cruise stunts. 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens with a death-defying feat: Cruise’s Ethan Hunt clings onto the exterior of an Airbus 400 as it takes off from a runway. This sequence became one of the film’s major selling points, featuring heavily in billboard and banner advertising. “There’s no digital Tom, and there’s no fake plane. He’s really strapped to an Airbus,” Director of Photography Robert Elswit declared. The stunt team did tests with a dummy, then with a stunt double, before letting Cruise do the stunt himself. Cruise was strapped into a harness that was wired to the plane through its door, and the runway was carefully cleared of rocks and other debris. “When he wants to do something, he’ll figure out a way to do it,” Elswit said of Cruise, describing him as “the most obsessive artist.” “If it couldn’t actually be Tom on the plane, I think he wouldn’t want the sequence in the movie,” Elswit remarked.

#2: OBLIVION

In the post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller Oblivion, Cruise plays the last man on earth – or so he thinks. It is Jack Harper’s job to repair drones that are attacked by alien scavengers, or ‘scavs’, and he routinely patrols his sector in a gleaming high-tech craft called the Bubbleship. The craft resembles a dragonfly and is inspired by the Bell 47 helicopter. The film features a dogfight during which Jack is pursued in his Bubbleship by hostile drones, with the mysterious Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko) seated beside him. Production designer Darren Gilford and his team built a life-sized Bubbleship. Cruise visited the crew in the workshop while they were constructing the Bubbleship, and had input on design elements like the foot pedals and controls, so operating the craft would look natural. “It’s so beautifully designed. Every piece of it was just smooth and elegant,” Cruise said. A cockpit-only version of the Bubbleship was built to be mounted on a gimbal, which would spin around against a bluescreen backdrop like a souped-up theme park ride. Being a pilot himself, Cruise had no problems with sitting in the rig, but his co-star Kurylenko had never been in a gimbal and was nervous about it. “Olga will tell you today she wasn’t scared. She was scared,” Cruise quipped.

“The Bubbleship is a beautiful creation when it’s just standing on the ground, but you don’t want to be in there when it’s flipping around!” Kurylenko said. “In the end I liked it, I have to admit. But don’t tell anyone, I pretended like I didn’t,” she laughed.

#3: THE MUMMY

Universal Studios’ revival of its classic movie monsters in ‘cinematic universe’ form, the Dark Universe, got off to a rocky start with The Mummy. Industry watchers speculated that the film’s failure was due at least in part to Cruise’s “excessive control” over the production. Cruise reportedly personally commissioned screenwriters to fashion the project into more of a star vehicle for himself, reducing the screen time of the titular character, Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet. The film features a big Mission: Impossible-style stunt: the crash of a military transport plane carrying Ahmanet’s sarcophagus. The production hired a zero-gravity plane from the French space agency NoveSpace, converting its interior to resemble a military transport plane. The plane would fly in parabolic arcs, resulting in brief periods of weightlessness. Cruise, co-star Annabelle Wallis and the crew all floated in zero-G to capture the scene. “We had to prepare as best we could, but then we don’t quite know exactly what’s going to happen,” Cruise said. “We wanted it to be wild and violent and spontaneous for an audience,” he explained. “They’re just seeing it happening in real time. There’s no edit, it’s there.”

#4: EDGE OF TOMORROW

Cruise first collaborated with his American Made director Liman on the sci-fi action flick Edge of Tomorrow, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s light novel All You Need is Kill. A loving ode to military science fiction mainstays such as Starship Troopers and Aliens with a Groundhog Day time loop folded in, Edge of Tomorrow features futuristic weapons and gadgets, including powered mech suits and Quadcopters. The Quadcopters are the conveyance from which troops are deployed onto the battlefield, and resemble the Bell Boeing Quad TiltRotor. “[Production designer] Oliver Scholl came up with this great idea of this dropship, this futuristic aircraft where the soldiers in their exo-suits would be locked in like human ordnance, and they just drop you,” Liman explained. “That seemed so terrifying and would be a really great thing for Tom Cruise’s character to have to experience.”

Being suspended from the rack inside the Quadcopter might not have been the most dangerous stunt Cruise had ever executed, but it wasn’t necessarily pleasant. “Being inside that dropship, we’re like canned tuna, basically,” Cruise recalled. “I have to say, those days we’re all in there, as actors you’re just hanging in an uncomfortable way for many, many hours.”

#5: TOP GUN

Playing a pilot launched Cruise to superstardom, and 1986’s Top Gun remains one of his best-known films. Most of us might regard the film as 80s kitsch, but in 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film was inspired by an article in California magazine about the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons school, colloquially known as ‘Top Gun’. Mega-producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson hired the late director Tony Scott on the basis of his commercial for Saab, which featured a fighter jet. Bruckheimer and Simpson pursued Cruise for the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, but Cruise wouldn’t commit even as he received updated drafts of the script. Bruckheimer arranged for Cruise to take a flight with the U.S. Navy’s famous Blue Angels aerobatics team, in the hopes that this would convince Cruise to accept the role. Cruise had just finished filming Ridley Scott’s Legend and still had a long ponytail, so the pilots thought he was a hippie and figured they’d have some fun by flying Cruise upside-down and at three to four G Forces. Cruise was unfazed, and Bruckheimer’s gambit paid off – Cruise hopped off the plane, went to the nearest phone booth and called Bruckheimer to say he was in. The long-awaited sequel is finally coming to fruition – Top Gun: Maverick is due in 2019, reuniting Cruise with Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski.

The Drawing of the Three: Animated Threequels

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The Drawing of the Three: animated threequels

Before Cars 3 zooms into theatres, we look at the good, the bad and the okay third instalments in animated film series

By Jedd Jong

Big-budget animated films take a lot of work, and often have longer production periods than live-action films. Even with the latest technological advances, it takes weeks to produce footage that is onscreen for mere seconds. Some concepts gestate and evolve over several years. In the early-2000s, we saw a trend of animated movies receiving low-budget direct-to-DVD sequels. There have also been theatrically-released animated films that did well enough to warrant not only a sequel that also opened in theatres, but a third instalment too.

While Pixar’s Cars films are not nearly as beloved as some of the studio’s other output, they have become a merchandising goldmine, even inspiring the Cars Land section at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. The first film got a lukewarm reception, with Cars 2 receiving a critical drubbing – its 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is the lowest of any Pixar film. The consensus is that Cars 3 is a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor. The film opened in the United States in June, and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 68%.

In some cases, animated film series show signs of running out of steam at movie #3, but in others, the third instalment breathes new life into the franchise. On the count of three, here is an overview of five threequels in animated film series.

#1: SHREK THE THIRD

2001’s Shrek established DreamWorks Animation as a worthy competitor to Disney and Pixar, even though DreamWorks had butted heads with its powerful rival before. Loosely based on the children’s book by William Stieg, Shrek was energetic, irreverent and contained a resonant message about looking past appearances, and how judging someone on their appearance alone can end up negatively defining them. 2004’s Shrek 2, which introduced the villainous Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming characters as well as sidekick Puss in Boots, was a critical and commercial hit. However, the wheels came off the Shrek train with the third instalment, which was released in 2007.

In Shrek The Third, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) embark on a road trip in search of Shrek’s nephew-in-law. The would-be heir to the throne is none other than Arthur Pendragon, or “Artie” (Justin Timberlake), who is attending a magical boarding school. The film also starred Monty Python alum Eric Idle as the voice of Merlin, and featured Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leading a posse of princesses voiced by comediennes including Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Maya Rudolph and Cheri Oteri. The film drew a tepid critical reaction, with critics pointed out that it seemed to be working overtime to prove its wit with a smorgasbord of pop culture references, at the expense of the heart displayed in its two predecessors. Shrek the Third was followed by Shrek Forever After in 2010, and a Puss in Boots spinoff in 2011. The property is being ‘resurrected’, but it is not known if the fifth film will be a complete reboot.

#2: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

Blue Sky Studios, which has produced animated films such as Rio, Epic and The Peanuts Movie, made its debut in 2002 with Ice Age. The animated film about an unlikely collection of critters who come across a human baby, who is the target of a Smilodon. Ice Age earned a positive critical reaction and was even nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, which it lost to Spirited Away. The film’s break-out star, a sabre-toothed squirrel named Scrat, scuttled his way into the pop culture consciousness. Alas, it seemed that this first entry was destined to be the would-be franchise’s high point, as the four films that followed have received considerably icier receptions.

The first film was followed by 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, with 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs as the third entry in the series. In this film, Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth is pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex after he unwittingly “adopts” three eggs that hatch into new-born T. rexes. The dinosaurs have survived the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period by hiding in a subterranean jungle. The film drew criticism for its tired story, but was praised for the quality of its animation. Disagreeing with the consensus was the late Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it the best in the series yet. Two more sequels, 2012’s Ice Age: Continental Drift and 2016’s Ice Age: Collision Course, have been produced.

#3: KUNG FU PANDA 3

DreamWorks Animation introduced the world to the loveable panda Po (Jack Black) in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda. Pretty much the ultimate promoted fanboy, Po goes from playing with action figures of the Furious Five to joining the team of warriors. The Kung Fu Panda films boast one of the glitziest casts DreamWorks, known for hiring A-list names as voice actors, has assembled. Black is joined by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and James Hong.  The three films have been consistently well-regarded by critics, with the first film receiving an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second scoring 81% and the third getting 87% as well. The series’ use of Chinese culture and traditions as inspiration for its anthropomorphic world and the energy and creativity with which its action scenes are animated have contributed to its praise. The first Kung Fu Panda film also performed well in China, leading to introspection from the Chinese film industry, whose domestically-produced animated films have often been criticised as being poor in quality. China responded with 2011’s Legend of a Rabbit, a.k.a. Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit, a knockoff of Kung Fu Panda.

In 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, Po is reunited with his long-lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), who takes Po to a hidden village of pandas. In the meantime, the Furious Five are menaced by Kai (J.K. Simmons), a powerful spirit warrior who has defeated numerous Kung Fu masters and stolen their chi. Kai has Po, the Dragon Warrior himself, in his crosshairs. Po must train his ungainly kin into fighting-fit warriors to defeat Kai, as Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement, passing the mantle of teacher on to Po. Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast as Kai, but the character was rewritten and recast with Simmons. Rebel Wilson was also originally cast as Mei Mei, a panda with a crush on Po, but was replaced by Kate Hudson. Scheduling conflicts were cited as the reason, but Wilson has argued that tabloid articles accusing her of lying about her age and upbringing were what led to her being fired from the animated film. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has planned the series to have six chapters. A fourth movie is supposedly in development, but a release date and casting hasn’t been announced.

#4: DESPICABLE ME 3

The most recent entry on this list is Despicable Me 3, which was released in June of this year. The first Despicable Me film was released in 2010, and was the debut animated feature film from French studio Mac Guff. Mac Guff has since been acquired by Illumination Entertainment. Thanks largely to the success of the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination has become a major player in the animation scene. It was established as the family entertainment arm of NBCUniversal, and in 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation. The Shrek ‘resurrection’ we mentioned earlier? That, and the rest of DreamWorks’ upcoming animated movie slate, is being overseen by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri. The first Despicable Me film was about how the supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) eventually becomes the foster father to three young girls, but the show was stolen by Gru’s army of capsule-shaped assistants, the Minions. The Minions became a merchandising phenomenon, got a spin-off to themselves in 2015, and even have their own ride at Universal Studios theme parks.

Despicable Me 3 sees Gru meet his long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), while battling 80s-themed supervillain and washed-up child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). A subplot sees Gru’s wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) trying to adapt to her new role as foster mother to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). While the lively animation and larger-than-life action sequences were praised, the contrived plot device of a long-lost twin sibling was seen by some critics as a sign that the franchise was running out of ideas. By now, the Minions have become a lightning rod for scorn, with many viewers rolling their eyes at an extended subplot about the Minions mutinying against Gru and getting thrown in prison. Illumination also displayed signs of smugness, taking a hard swipe at Finding Nemo in the film’s opening minutes (Gru’s submersible slams into a clownfish, leaving its father distraught as only its son’s severed fin remains). The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, with Minions 2 set for a 2020 release date.

#5: TOY STORY 3

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios created the first feature-length computer-generated animated film ever made: Toy Story. An industry game changer, Toy Story was an auspicious feature-length debut for a company that had been tinkering with high-tech animation techniques and showcasing them in short films for some time. Toy Story is about the secret life that the denizens of Andy’s toybox have when he is not around. Andy’s favourite toy has long been the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks). Woody feels threatened when Andy brings home a new toy, the spacefaring Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who believes he is an actual space ranger and refuses to accept that he is a toy. Woody attempts to win back Andy’s affections and must begrudgingly cooperate when Woody and Buzz find themselves endangered by Sid, Andy’s neighbour who takes delight in dismantling and reassembling toys.

The Toy Story films are critical darlings – the first film is one of the few in existence to have a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 1999’s Toy Story 2, in which Woody gets stolen by a toy collector and has to be rescued by Buzz and the other toys, also earned a 100% Tomatometer rating. In 2010’s Toy Story 3, the toys confront an uncertain future as Andy, now grown up, prepares to leave for college. In addition to boasting the usual high-quality animation and fine vocal performances that Pixar had become known for, Toy Story 3’s deep meditation on loss, nostalgia and the process of growing up moved many viewers to tears. The film has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the first negative review counted by the site coming, predictably enough, from infamously contrarian critic Armond White. Other critics gave the film glowing reviews, with the BBC’s Mark Kermode declaring the Toy Story series “the best movie trilogy of all time”. The film also topped filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s list of favourite films of 2010. While many feel Toy Story 3 works as a beautifully bittersweet note on which to end the series, Toy Story 4 is set for a 2019 release and will be about Woody and Buzz’s search for the lost toy, Bo Peep.

Cars 3 opens in Singapore on 31 August 2017.