To the delight of children (and parents) everywhere this Friday June 24th marks the release of Cars 2, the follow up to the phenomenally popular Pixar pic. It’s been five years since the last one, and finally Lightening McQueen, Mater and the rest of their automotive gang have reunited for another adventure.
This time Mater takes the lead role as the Cars travel around the world in a spy inspired 3D blockbuster. But this isn’t the old Cars of yester year, this one has more action, more adventure, and has way more races (plus explosions, weapons and spy gear) – totally targeting that 7-12 year old boy demographic and then some.
We sat down with the writer, director and the man who runs Pixar – the one and only John Lasseter – to discuss why spies, what’s up with the Cars drinking, the violence in the film, parenting, his social responsibility and his time operating the Jungle Cruise.
“The spy genre came out of it because we originally had a scene in the first Cars movie where Lightning McQueen was taking Sally on the first date. It involved the scene where the neon lights come on and they go cruising. And it was going to be in the drive in movie theatre and we had a [spy] movie playing on the screen and I love spy movies.
My childhood was during the 60s and early 70s and my favorite TV show was The Man from Uncle. And I just lived that show. I played in the backyard and was those characters. And my five sons and I we’re really into like the Bourne Identity movies and all that stuff and we thought this is a great genre to do with Cars because one of the great things about spy movies is they have cool spy cars.
In our world just like, you know, the racecar and the racecar driver are one and the same, you know, in this spy and the spy car are one and the same. But, in [the original] Cars the story changed and that spy movie got cut but at Pixar …good ideas are never forgotten and so I kept thinking about it.
When the opportunity started after Cars came out that they wanted to do another one of these – we only do a sequel at Pixar when we come up with a good idea – and I thought it would be really fun to dig up that spy movie idea. Alfred Hitchcock films have always been real inspiring for me as a filmmaker and two of the films Man Who Knew Too Much and North by Northwest has this notion of an innocent person getting caught up in some sort of conspiracy.
And I thought oh, that’s a really cool kind of story thing so we thought Mater would be the hilarious if he got mistaken for a spy. He’s about as opposite a spy as you get and there’s a lot of fun that can be. That kind of started the evolution of this, this idea and going out around the world was inspired from as they traveled around the world doing press for Cars I had Cars characters on the brain.
I kept going to Japan and the UK and Italy and France and Germany and all these places that have their own car cultures and great cars and amazing roads and very different than here. And I thought it could be really fun to take our characters to these places …to travel around the world in these glamorous places. And I thought this is gonna be really fun and it satisfied me for wanting to do something that’s really different than the original movie.
“In the case of our sequels we always try to do something that’s very different. We don’t want to rehash the same thing. What’s so important to us in every Pixar feel is the emotional heart of the film. I think that’s the foundation of what we do and the emotional heart of our films has to do with what does the main character learn? That’s at the basis of every Pixar film. And as we approach all of our sequels we want to take a look at the main character and what can he learn that’s different than the original?
We can’t have him go have amnesia and have to relearn the same thing all over again, right? Most sequels as you know out there in the world tend to be, uh, tend to be just rehashes of the exact same story and it makes the original less interesting. And we don’t ever want to do that and we have this view of this world where these characters are living in and in the Cars world to me is as big as the world that you and I live in.
Whatever we can do they can do but when they get there it’s a car-ified world, you know. And I think it’s really, really kind of important to take a look at and have — and part of it is having fun.”
Liquor in the Film:
One thing that many a parent will note in the film is the presence of what seems to represent cocktails and beer in the film, a subject that Jon Lassater addressed right out of the gate:
“I just want to be really clear with you. I’m very conscience about alcohol in the films and it seems like there’s a lot of drinking. It’s all oil… it’s all oil in the movie. They don’t drink alcohol and drive. It’s oil. So it’s all oil based stuff. I go to great lengths so every label looks like it oil and [we] make a big deal about it because it’s something that’s really important for me as well.
There’s martini glasses. There’s beer glasses because it fits for the setting of the film, the big parties or the pub and things like that. It just sort of made, made sense. But in all those cases we do make a point to put oil on there.”
On His Social Responsibility:
“I take it very seriously as the chief creator officer at Disney Pixar Animation. I have five boys and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to the movie theatres as a dad, you know, not as a filmmaker but as a dad and just been like….here’s a movie that’s been advertised as a family film and you go in and there’s language that’s inappropriate, you know, not the language I speak with my kids at home.
It’s the subject matter that’s inappropriate that I think oh, they’re not ready for this subject matter. And in Hollywood they tend to want to make things …you hear the word edgy, right? Because they want to appeal to the core movie going audience which is kind of a little older. And so they feel they have to do these things or kind of humor that is, you know, fart humor or something like that.
I mean a good fart humor every now and then is okay, you know, because we all deal with it with our kids. We have our names for them and stuff, you know.
I just look at it from a father’s point of view and that’s what’s so great about Pixar is that is that we’re all family. We all are family people. At Pixar we all love movies ourselves. And I am devoted to making movies that you, all of you enjoy just as much as your kids and you walk out feeling like it’s okay and you don’t mind them watching it again and again because at the end they are wholesome because there is nice, nice messages in there.
We don’t make our movies to teach lessons. We’re not into that. We have great messages in our film that are there to help tell the heart of the story. And, and I take great responsibility and there’s certain things and that’s what I said right away about the alcohol because it’s important for me. We never have smoking in our films, you know. We have smoking tailpipes but, you know, they’re cars but we don’t have smoking. We don’t have, you know, over drinking.
Violence is, is something we take a look at. The Incredibles and Cars and are both a certain kind of genre. And so to me I’m very conscience of the violence in there and sort of like where do you draw the line of being it’s kind of okay because all the stuff our kids watch there’s a lot of this going on and there’s a certain level that is accepted for the kind of genre that they’re watching, superheroes or kind of spy movies. We were very conscience of that line and it was really important because I knew I was stepping into a genre that had guns and explosions and stuff like that.”
Get Your Kids to Work at Disneyland
“I grew up in Whittier, California. It’s about a half an hour from Disneyland in Anaheim and when I was going to Cal Arts I already knew I wanted to be a Disney animator as I was going to Cal Arts in the character animation program there.
And I got a job at Disneyland as a rider operator on the Jungle Cruise. I started as a sweeper in Tomorrow Land in 1977 and then I transferred into the ride operator on Jungle Cruise and it was the most fun job I’ve ever had. And I do want to recommend to all your children and your readers that jobs at Disneyland is one of the great things your kids can do.
If you live anywhere near there and you can do that, they learn so much and it’s so fantastic. My son, he worked there last summer. He just graduated college and he decided he’s gonna go to graduate school. He’s taking a year off just so he can work for one more year at Disneyland because he loves it so much.
It’s like the best way to describe it is college without the homework. It is all the fun stuff but it’s amazing being at a place where everyone is happy all day. It’s just magnificent and but anyway I — one of the great things in my career is, is when it’s just being now creating characters that are finding their way back into this place of my childhood, you know, one of my favorite place in the world, Disneyland.”
Being a father is one of the great things. And at Pixar whenever I see two people get married I’m always so excited for them. And then when they get pregnant it’s like I’m really excited and when they have a baby I say don’t stop, keep going. ‘Oh, I don’t know if we can.’ I say ‘yes, you can, go!’ You want more. Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t. I love having five kids.
Full Disclosure: The author participated in a press junket for the above coverage and was the guest of the Walt Disney Company while attending. Any opinions presented here are purely held by its author and do not reflect those held by Pixar Animation Studios or the Walt Disney Company.