With Cars 2, John Lasseter drives the spy movie in a new direction.
Be they Buzz Lightyears or machines for bigger boys, John Lasseter loves him some toys. Though he put Pixar on the map as director of Toy Story, Lasseter's role in recent years has been more like that of a racing team owner, as he put star directors like Brad Bird behind the wheel. Yet Lasseter maintains a strong attachment to the Cars franchise - his father was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership - and is back at in the driver's seat of Cars 2, which expands the all-mechanical realm of the first film to a global scope and shifts gears from nostalgic racing comedy to out-and-out spy movie.
At a recent press day in Los Angeles, we caught up with Lasseter to get the lowdown on the series' newly signaled turn.
GeekChicDaily: What made you decide to direct Cars 2?
John Lasseter: I just love movies and I always get frustrated when I go to see a sequel where they rehash the same story all over again. It makes the original seem less original forever. So if we do a sequel, it's because we've come up with a really great story that's different. It's really about getting to the emotional core of the story and that is the main character's emotional change: what he learns.
We wanted to have a friendship story between Lightning McQueen and Mater, about how friendship can be tested when you take it out of its home. Take Mater out of Radiator Springs and he's embarrassing to Lightning McQueen. And Mater learns that people are not laughing with him, they're laughing at him - that became the emotional core.
GCD: Where did the classic spy movie idea enter into that?
JL: In Cars, there was a scene where Lightning and Sally were having a first date and it was originally set in a drive-in movie theater. And I love spy movies: I grew up in the '60s and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was one of my favorite TV shows. My sons are crazy about the Bourne movies. So I was inspired by wanting to do a spy movie and we came up with this movie-within-a-movie they were watching that had this character named Finn McMissile in it. The place for that scene shifted and it got cut, but I never forgot about it. I thought that would be really cool because in our world, the spy and the cool spy car are one and the same.
GCD: How did you choose the various countries this movie is set in?
JL: As I was traveling around the world for Cars publicity, I kept looking out the window and thinking how fun it would be to take our characters there, because each of those places has its own automotive heritage. There are roundabouts in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe that are ten lanes wide - Mater could get in there and he'd be weeks getting out. The back streets of Tokyo - how confusing they are. The Autobahns, with no speed limits. Italy, where traffic signals are just a suggestion of maybe what you might wanna think about doing.
So this all became an inspiration for wanting to take our characters around the world and I got really turned on to the different types of racing. The international press junket was in Barcelona, in conjunction with Formula One racing - it was my first Formula One race and I just thought, "Ohhhhh, this is cool!" I'm just a little kid. I've discovered that being in animation means you don't have to grow up and I always trust that little boy in me when I find stuff that's fun.
GCD: This is a faster-paced movie than usual for you. Is that because the primary target audience is boys who love playing with cars?
JL: No, no, it had nothing to do with that. It has to do with the genre of the film. The Bourne movies upped the ante on cool and fast-paced. And we set out not to make a parody of a spy movie, but to make a spy movie that just has cars as characters. So we really studied deeply the whole history of car chases. We pulled them from every movie where we could find one and really studied how they shoot them, how they cut them and the energy that's in there.
The first Bourne, with the Mini where he's stuck in Paris, that one's fantastic. The [car chase] in Ronin is phenomenal. We actually did an interesting study of the Ronin car chase. In most of the car chases there's a lot of shots cutting in to the driver and we don't have that opportunity in a movie where the cars themselves are the characters. So we did an experiment where we took some of these car chases and we cut out all shots of the drivers and kept it only about the cars. We learned a lot.
GCD: There's a lot of gunfire in this movie. Was that ever a concern for the children's market?
JL: We're very proud of making films that are great for all audiences, but there are scary things in our movies, every single one of them. We were inspired by the films of Walt Disney and if you look at Snow White, or Pinocchio with Lampwick turning into a donkey, those are horrific images. There is a power to these things, but this is what makes those films so great and that is what we want to do. In Toy Story, when those mutant toys come out they're pretty scary, but in the end you find out they're the most selfless characters in the film. So after the first time through, kids are okay with it. Honestly, I think a lot of the times the parents are scared that it's not right for the kids and the kids are eating it up.
Cars 2 skids into theaters everywhere today, June 24th, 2011.