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Driven by his passion for spy movies and cars, John Lasseter has steered the sequel of the much loved Cars to a pit stop near you.

“During the making of Cars,” says John Lasseter, “we were developing a sequence in which Lightning McQueen was going to take Sally, the Porsche, on a first date. And it was going to be at a drive-in movie, because that’s very car-oriented. Then we thought, ‘What movie is playing?’ I love spy movies and I thought it would be so much fun to see what a spy movie would be in the car world. We came up with this character named Finn McMissile who was going to be starring in this little movie-within-a-movie. 

"a lot of potential "

“I am a huge fan of spy movies,” continues Lasseter. “I grew up on the TV show ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and my five sons and I love watching the spy movies together. We must have seen the ‘Bourne’ series hundreds of times. And so even though the sequence changed and Lightning and Sally went cruising on their first date instead, I never forgot the idea of Finn McMissile and the spy movie. I thought, ‘There’s a lot of potential there.’”

Then in 2006, while on a global publicity tour promoting the international release of Cars, Lasseter knew that these culturally diverse foreign countries would be the perfect setting for the Cars characters to become embroiled in a spy story.

“It’s exciting to take Mater around the world and put him in situations that are totally unique to that country,” says Lasseter. “This is where the spark of the second part of the story came from as I was travelling. I had all these characters in my head, and I found myself constantly laughing, imagining what Mater would do in these different situations. How would he handle driving on the wrong side of the road in London? What would it be like to have Mater lost in the maze of streets in Tokyo, with no English street signs? And how would he function in Italy, where the traffic signals are just a mere suggestion of what you might want to do?” 

Lasseter is also on home ground with cars. “I grew up loving cars and the Southern California car culture. My dad was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership, so Cars was very personal to me — the characters, the small town, their love and support for each other and their way of life. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I wanted to take another road trip to new places around the world, and I thought a way into that world could be another passion of mine, the spy movie genre. I just couldn’t shake that idea of marrying the two distinctly different worlds of Radiator Springs and international intrigue. And here we are.”

"the heart and humour"

Apart from the chance to take the characters all over the world, and into the world of international racing and espionage, the thing that appealed most to Lasseter was the heart and humour inherent in the characters and the story.

“The humour in Cars 2 comes from the personality of the characters,” says the director, “and seeing them in interesting, fish-out-of-water situations. But at its emotional core, the movie is about Lightning McQueen and Mater’s friendship, which gets tested in a very different and interesting way. It’s about how the strength of a friendship can be tested. What may be solid in one place can appear much different in another. Put a friendship to the test under a different set of circumstances and in a different setting — how true and deep is this friendship, really?” 

Lasseter is particularly fond of Mater. “Mater is such a special character; he’s honest and completely straightforward and tells it exactly like it is,” says the director. “He’s just fun and lovable. When a character as innocent as that discovers that people are not laughing with him, like he’s always thought his entire life, but laughing at him, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see him become immediately and more realistically aware and learn the truth about himself — or what he thinks is the truth about himself. It’s very touching, because through his own journey, his friendship with Lightning McQueen is eventually made even stronger. They both realize that, you know what, Mater is who he is, and it’s not Mater who has to change, it’s the world that should change.”

Published June 23, 2011

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