John Lasseter grew up around cars. His father, Paul, was a parts manager at the local Chevrolet dealership in Whittier, a small town in Southern California about 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. As a young man working weekends and summers, John would help his father count parts for inventory. Eventually, he worked his way up through the dealership and became a parts delivery boy.
Still an admitted car junkie, Lasseter confesses to reading “every car magazine every month” and, despite owning “the most beautiful car ever designed,” a 1952 Jaguar XK120, hopes one day to own a 1957 Corvette. He does come from a Chevy family, after all.
It should be no surprise, then, that the characters Lasseter created in Pixar’s 2006 release, Cars, were among his most favorite. To Lasseter, “The characters, the small town, their love and support for each other and their way of life…were very personal.” So personal, in fact, that long after Lasseter had completed and released Cars, the characters refused to go away. Lasseter knew they were begging for another adventure.
During a world-wide publicity trip for Cars, Lasseter started imagining how the Cars’ characters would handle international travel. “When I was in Paris, I’d imagine how Mater would maneuver around the giant roundabouts around the Arc de Triomphe? No signals and no lane lines. How would Mater handle driving on the wrong side of the road in London? What would Mater do being lost in the maze of streets in Tokyo, with no street signs in English? How would Mater handle Italy, where the traffic signals there are just a mere suggestion?”
At first, these visions were simply the random, cerebral exercises of one of the greatest imaginations since Walt Disney, himself. Eventually, they became inspiration for part of the plot of Cars 2. Lasseter also found inspiration–and another of the film’s themes–from his love of spy movies. “I grew up on the TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and my five sons and I love watching the spy movies together,” explained Lasseter.
In Cars 2, opening world-wide on June 24th, Lightning McQueen, voiced once again by Owen Wilson, is invited to compete in the World Grand Prix to race against the fastest cars in the world. Lightning and his pal, Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), travel to Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom where Mater is, of course, comically out of place.
Mater unwittingly gets involved in a case of international espionage and is torn between helping Lightning in his high-profile race or becoming embroiled in a top-secret spy mission with super British spy Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) and rookie spy Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
International espionage and global racing seem a bit out of place in a Disney/Pixar comedy. But, as Lasseter explains, the humor in the movie “comes from the personality of the characters and seeing them in interesting, fish-out-of-water situations.” And at its core, Cars 2 really is not about spy adventures or auto racing. It is about the friendship between Lightning and Mater—how it is challenged and, in the end, strengthened.
There is little doubt that Lasseter’s plate is full these days. He is the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios and the creative adviser to Disney Imagineering, which oversees the company’s theme parks. Directing Cars 2, then, was truly the result of Lasseter’s belief that it was a worthy project. “We only do a sequel if we have a great story idea,” says Lasseter.
Contributed by: JohnMarchese (NDD#172) John is the DDL Media Relations Blogger.