Animators, start your engines. Disney and Pixar have brought back Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) for the latest entry in the ongoing Cars franchise with Cars 3. As with most sequels, Cars 3 is a mixture of the classic characters and new roster of anthropomorphic automobiles which infuses its animated hijinks with that unmistakable Pixar charm. Ahead of the world premiere at the Anaheim Convention Center last weekend, the cast and crew of Cars 3 held a press conference to discuss the animated sequel.
Among the newcomers to the world of Cars is Armie Hammer, the hunky leading man lending his voice to Lightning Jackson, a Next-Gen racer that leads to a personal crisis for the heroic Lightning McQueen. “They’re faster. They’re smarter. They’re better looking,” Hammer says with a smile pointed towards Owen Wilson. “Look at that thing,” he says while pointing to the sleek Next-Gen racer on the stage behind him.
Also joining the automotive world of animated cars is Cristela Alonzo as Cruz Ramirez, an enthusiastic trainer who has since abandoned her dreams of racing. Through training Lightning McQueen, Cruz soon learns that he does have what it takes to be a racer.
“Cruz Ramirez is a great little character I loved playing. What I liked about her is she’s very good at what she does, but at the same time she had doubts about herself regarding the same skill that she uses to coach the cars the best they can be,” Alonzo said of her yellow sports car character. “What I like about Cruz is that I think she’s very relatable for boys and girls, in that you might have doubts about things and you don’t know how you’re going to pull something off, but at the end of the day you realize the only way you can do your best is to go for it and trust your instincts.”
Meanwhile, Owen Wilson is just as you’d expect him to be. As most of his castmates give somewhat longer answers, the Texan actor is laid back. For his third turn as Lightning McQueen, Wilson finds himself drawn to the inspirational themes that run through Cars 3. “That idea that we do all need encouragement and that everybody sometimes falls a little short, you know, fails. That idea that we’re sort of part of a community. I think that’s an important message for everybody,” Wilson said employing his laidback charms.
Another newcomer to Cars is Kerry Washington as the statistician Natalie Certain. “I’m just happy to be joining this franchise. I’ve been such a fan for such a long time, so it’s just a pleasure to be a part of this family,” the Scandal star with wide grin. “But I do think it’s fun to see women in the film who are brave and smart and courageous and also teachable. You know, women who balance having extraordinary talent and intellect but also are humble enough to learn the lessons they have to learn by the end of the film.”
Back as the backwoods tow truck Mater is the comedian Larry the Cable Guy, who certainly didn’t dress up for the occasion in his shorts and t-shirt. Why the Southern comedian keeps coming back for Cars entries is rather simple. “People can relate to the characters, first of all. They’re just fun movies that have a lot of heart in them,” he said. “As far as my character goes, I think a lot of people would like to have a neighbor like Mater. He’s dependable. He’s loveable and sweet. He may not be the sharpest fork in the knife drawer but he’s faithful guy, and that’s what everybody would like to have.”
Comedian Lea DeLaria joins Cars 3 as Miss Fritter, a schoolbus gone wild at a demolition derby. “For me, I just love Pixar. It’s magical,” the comedian said of her involvement in the film. “Anytime a see a new Pixar movie I’m beyond excited to watch it. I’m always there the first second it opens. It just transforms us all back to our childhood. I’m just a kid screaming and laughing at whatever is happening. This is a dream come true for me to be in a Pixar movie. That’s because I love it. I just love sitting there and remembering that.”
Veteran actor Isiah Whitlock, Jr. also joins the cast as River Scott, and his research for the role led him to a newfound appreciation of auto racing. “I was overwhelmed by the passion and the love for the sport. I don’t think I’ll ever look at NASCAR in the same way. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t quite understand it,” he said.
Even with an expansive cast and the immense talents of the Pixar crew, Cars 3 took a while to bring to the screen, with six years having passed since the last film. “A lot of trial and error,” director Brian Fee said with a laugh. “We spent a lot of years trying to figure out the best way to tell the story. It was an important message. It was a very important movie personally and for us at the studio. Coming at it as a parent, there are a certain scenes with McQueen in finding out what he meant to Doc Hudson, and finding out that he was the most important thing in Doc’s life. You know that’s a scene I had with my kids when I realized that being their father was the most important thing in my life.”
“Nothing happens by accident in a Pixar movie,” say Nathan Fillion, who plays Lightning’s rich benefactor Sterling, about the meticulous nature of the storytellers. “They tell a story one pixel at a time. So by the time it gets to the point where I’m sitting there in front of a microphone, all the hard work has actually been done. I rely very heavily on the director, we get to play around a little bit. But in all honesty, you’re looking at a Thanksgiving meal and Nathan is the pepper. The work has kind of been done. Just a need a little pepper, buddy.”
Sometimes that pepper comes in unexpected ways. “They used my high school on the side of the bus, which I think is amazing. And the license plate is my birthday,” Lea DeLaria said of Pixar’s attention to detail. “I didn’t say, ‘I won’t do it unless my birthday is the license plate.’ They called me and said, ‘What’s your birthday? What high school did you go to?’ Next thing I knew it was actually saying my high school on the script and on the bus.”
The biggest surprise of Cars 3 comes in the form of the film’s loving tribute to the legendary actor Paul Newman, and his character from the original series. There was quite a bit of luck in having so much material from Newman’s original recording session for the first film. “We were really lucky John Lasseter on Cars had ran, kept the mic open, and we had all these wonderful things that we did transcriptions,” producer Kevin Reher explained. “Then the Newman’s Own Foundation was fantastic in supporting us because they knew we were trying to be as respectful as possible with Mr. Newman’s performance and we weren’t just doing it lightly.”
Brian Fee weighed in the daunting task of combing through Newman’s recording sessions. “Hours of voice on tape to kind of comb through and find what was going to help us tell this story,” the director said. “Because there were some nuggets in there we couldn’t use. I feel extremely fortunate that we got the right things. We got exactly what we needed.”
Cars 3 is now playing in theaters nationwide.