This week, audiences will get to see the conclusion to Lightning McQueen’s 11-year-long cinematic journey on the big screen with the release of Disney and Pixar’s Cars 3. The film follows McQueen after he experiences a near career-ending accident on the racetrack, but what starts out as another traditional comeback story eventually evolves into a tale about a veteran finding joy in helping to shape the new generation of racers, when a young, female wannabe racecar cruises suddenly into Lightning’s life.
In anticipation of the film’s release this coming Friday, Disney invited us to attend the official Cars 3 press conference in Anaheim, CA. Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Cristela Alonzo, Kerry Washington, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion, Lea DeLaria, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and director Brian Fee were all in attendance, offering new insights into how Cars 3 developed its thought-provoking themes.
Here are some of the most exciting reveals that came from the high-profile event.
Director Brian Fee first opened up about making the film, and how the presence of his own daughters wound up affecting the themes and messages of Cars 3:
Brian Fee: My kids have influenced this movie so much. You know, I want my daughters to never be afraid to try something because they think they’re not going to be good at it. I never want to hear them say certain things are for boys and certain things are for girls. As a father, if I see that something I said or did had an impact on them, and I see that they’re a little better off than maybe before, because of an interaction or a moment we shared together, that’s for me, that’s what life’s about. That’s the best part. I don’t know what I otherwise would have been doing today, but I’m glad we did this because this is the main thing that life’s about, those are the moments that you fight for, and try to get on the screen.
For Cristela Alonzo too, who plays Cruz Ramirez in the film – the trainer/protege that Lightning eventually takes under his wing – the combined chance of getting to work with Pixar and play a skilled and independent female character was too sweet to pass up:
Cristela Alonzo: It really is about skill. We don’t really reference that she is a girl. We don’t reference that she is a female driver. We actually talk about how good she is and we see it in the story. It’s one of those lessons that I think we tend to forget about, it’s not about a boy or a girl doing something, it’s about the best person doing the best that they can. So I think that’s such a great way to get a story about female empowerment, by reminding everybody that we’re pretty much all alike and we’re all the same, and if you work hard and have the skill, whoever is the best will win.
Both Kerry Washington and Armie Hammer added to that, saying the themes of inclusion and mentorship were the most surprising and heartwarming aspects of Cars 3 to them initially:
Kerry Washington: There are a lot of people who feel like an outsider. I think that because the film is so grounded, no matter what the specifics are about why they feel like an outsider or why you feel disenfranchised or unrepresented, no matter what that looks like for you, you can identify with Cruz. So I think it will resonate with all kinds of people.
Armie Hammer: I have a young daughter, who’s almost a little too young, but she is starting to appreciate movies, but the fact that there’s a strong female figure who’s told, ‘You can do anything you want,’ as a father of a girl, I love that. Getting to be a part of a movie that can carry on that message, I’m happy.
As per usual when it comes to Pixar films also, Fee and co. revealed that they were always looking for new ways to include Easter eggs for the audience to try and pick up on. But for Lea DeLaria, that meant some references to her own life in the final design of her monster truck character, Mrs. Fritter:
Lea DeLaria: They used my high school on the side of the bus, which I think is amazing. And the license plate is my birthday. But it wasn’t like, I called and said, ‘I won’t do it unless birthday is the license plate!’ They called me and asked, ‘What’s your birthday, and what high school did you go to?’ And then the next thing I knew, I was actually saying my high school while reading the script and it was on the bus, and I just think that’s kind of great.
But more than anything else, the film’s cast members revealed why they think the characters of the Cars franchise resonant have managed to resonate so well with audiences for the past 11 years, even despite their often outlandish visual designs:
Nathan Fillion: That’s the idea isn’t it? That’s the design. We do that suspension of disbelief, the idea that Superman can put on glasses and nobody recognizes him. We just kind of forgive, ‘Okay, this is a world of cars,’ we forgive that immediately, and then we’re in. We’ve bought a ticket, we’re saying, ‘We’re willing to dismiss our conceptions.’
Larry the Cable Guy: People can relate to the characters, first of all, and they’re just fun movies. They have a lot of heart in them. 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 lovable and he’s sweet. He may not be the smartest fork in the knife drawer but he’s a faithful guy and that’s what everybody would like to have. It’s just kinda cool seeing the progression and how these movies go through and have grown like everybody else. It’s cool to see.
Owen Wilson: I think that it’s also the animators did a pretty good job. Because I know when they were first animating the cars, before they figured out where they were going to do the eyes and stuff, there’s something that is kind of human or inviting about the expressions so I think that helps make the cars more relatable and lifelike to people. I think that’s a big part of it. And, the voices, you know?
Cars 3 opens in theaters on June 16.