John Lasseter Goes Under the Hood of Cars 2


As a lead-in to WonderCon, Disney•Pixar invited to participate in a special early-lead press day for their 2011 film, Cars 2, featuring the return of Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy as racecar Lightning McQueen and Tow Truck Mater and featuring brand-new international spy cars Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).

Though we’re not yet allowed to talk about the footage that was shown, you can catch a small glimpse as part of the film’s newly-launched viral campaign by clicking here. had a chat with Pixar and Disney Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, who marks with the sequel his first return to directing since the 2006 original. Arguably the busiest man in Hollywood, Lasseter spoke about finding the film’s story (one that dates back to a deleted scene from the first Cars) and drops some hints about what fans can expect when Disney’s California Adventure debuts “Cars Land” next year.

Q: Was there even a budget concern with “Cars 2” due to rising cost of gasoline?
John Lasseter:
(Laughs) Well you know it’s interesting that you say that because, when we were developing this, we kept going back to the great conspiracy movies and spy movies and stuff like that. The best ones are the ones where you have a great bad guy and know what the bad guy is about. I kept thinking to myself that, in a world where cars are alive and there are no humans, what would be a great bad guy? I kept going back to Big Oil, right? Big Oil would, just in general, be a great bad guy, especially living in California where there’s a strong desire for alternative fuel or other options. You sit there and you just go, “Why? Why? Why can’t we have that now? We’re smart! We have great technology!” I just kept thinking about how great it would be to have Big Oil be the bad guy that is wrapped up in trying to discredit alternative fuel. That sort of became this thing because of the rising cost of gasoline. You go, “Why is it rising so much? What is the real story that’s going on?” It just seems like there’s so many interesting conspiracy theories wrapped around all of that. The grip they have on everybody because the world is all driven by oil. So I said, “Okay, that’s kind of cool.” Then we just went to work from that. Part of it though is that it’s not a message movie. I just love taking things and going, “Oh! That’s kind of familiar to the audience.” It just makes the world a little more believable. It’s not topical, but it’s kind of believable. We wanted to make the world something where we could make that connection with the audience.

Q: How quickly did the spy plot come into play? Was that what made you want to do the sequel or was the decision made to do a sequel and that was one of the ideas that was tossed out?
Well, we had developed the movie-within-a-movie for the sequence in “Cars” when Lightning McQueen and Sally had their first date at the drive-in movie theater. The first date shifted to the cruising scene, so that went away. We had developed a spy movie as that sort of movie-within-a-movie. Even though we lost it from the first movie, it kind of stuck in the back of my head and I thought, “That would be so much fun to do!” I was raised on spy movies and always loved them. One of my favorite things as a kid was “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and the “Bourne” movies are a series that I absolutely love. I kept thinking that it would be so awesome to do this with the “Cars” characters. Then the idea of taking them around the world came about. That fit so nicely with the spy genre but also gave the chance to have all the cool racing cars and the international style racing like Formula One. I thought that could be like the perfect setting for this. Then the race became the important thing in the bad guy’s plan. So it all became neatly wrapped up. It was really fun. I kept watching as many spy movies as I could get, from old ones to new ones, just trying to figure out the genre. For the first “Toy Story,” which was a buddy picture, I believed we needed to watch a zillion good and bad [buddy films]. It’s really important to watch the bad versions of a genre because you really get to understand what not to do. Then you look at the good ones and you start seeing what’s really cool. There are certain conventions that you want to work with and certain others that you want to break just because everybody does that. But there’s a logic to that world and there’s fun in crafting that. I had never worked in this kind of genre before and it was really a blast.

Q: Earlier, you talked about the idea that no one contributor’s idea is more important than anyone else’s. Has that been a rule at Pixar since the beginning?
As a filmmaker, I’m very collaborative. I don’t pretend to know everything that is needed to make a movie. What I like to do is get together with a group of people, starting with developing the story and bounce around ideas. We’ll talk and someone will say, “Oh, that’s interesting!” and that brings up more ideas and more discussion. That’s why there’s not one person who is an auteur of a film at Pixar. These are real collaborative efforts. Story is the most important thing, so we surround ourselves with lots of honest conversation about the story from the beginning, within your crew, developing the story. Then, in the greater studio of all the key director and story people who come together every so often. Every three months or so to take a look at where we’re at. Sometimes it’s just a pitch. Most of the time, you show a version of a movie as you get onto it. You show the movie in story reel form. You go into the theater and load the theater with as many Pixar people as we can get, to get a full-audience feel to it. You watch it and it’s like, what works, works and what doesn’t, doesn’t. It’s great. We encourage everyone who sees it to send notes in. We get notes from everybody, no matter what they do. It’s very important to get those notes. My role as Chief Creative Office here is to make sure that there’s no hierarchy to the notes. My notes are not any more valuable than the chef or the receptionist or an animator or a story guy. There’s no mandatory note. I don’t expect my notes to appear on a clipboard that some assistant is sitting with and checking off. I don’t want that. To me, you get the notes and you have an honest conversation with the filmmakers. You know, sitting around the table, that everyone is there to make your movie the best that it can be. Sometimes it’s stuff that you don’t want to hear. You thought you had something working and it turns out it’s not. You go, “Oh, come on! Really!?” and they say, “Yeah.” and you explain. They go, “Oh, that’s not bad, but it’s not up on the screen yet.” It helps you kind of get closer. It’s very important because, oftentimes with artists, everyone wants to work on it and not show it to anybody until they know they’ve got it right. Andrew Stanton came up with this phrase that is absolutely one of the great things about Pixar. “Be wrong as fast you can.” You will be wrong the first time you put something up. It won’t be working. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean that it’s a trainwreck. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean that we have to get rid of you. We believe in the person and we will get there. We believe in the process. So you put it out there and we see where you’re at. “This is working. This is not working.” Let’s get together and talk about it and boom. The faster you can put it up, the quicker you can put it up, the quicker you can be on the path to fixing it and making it right. Every Pixar movie goes through a real place where it’s just not working at all. All the films have done that, “Cars 2” included. “Toy Story 3.” Everything. But we just work through it and we will not give up until it’s great. So that’s the foundation.

Q: Are there any characters or themes from “Cars 2” that will appear in “Cars Land” and how is that coming along?
Most of “Cars Land” was designed around the first “Cars” because “Cars 2” was further out and things had to be kind of set a while ago. But what we’re doing is, in Guido and Luigi’s, they have a fantastic ride. In the queue area you go through the shop and we’re planning to have one of the rooms completely full of all the memorabilia from the trip they took that was “Cars 2,” around the world. So there’s going to be a lot of that. There will be memorabilia from it. We actually took things that were happening in “Cars Land” and brought it into Radiator Springs in this. Flo’s has expanded. We went ahead and took the design that I helped work on for “Cars Land” and brought it into “Cars 2.” It’s funny, you don’t quite see it but it’s there. Then Mater’s ride is all his memorabilia from all the “Cars Toons” that are kind of in the queue area. That’s going to be fun. But we’re trying to bring it all in, like bits and pieces of this.

Q: You still have a year to go?
Yeah, but steel’s up. Working on this, it’s a long process and it’s being built. If you go to Disneyland you’ll be like “Whoa!” It’s big but it’s going to be really fun.

Cars 2 hits theaters on June 24th in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D.