Pixar’s John Lasseter on Cars 2

We talk to Pixar's  chief creative officer about his new film, Cars 2.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

John Lasseter - Cars 2

John Lasseter, the driving force behind Pixar and Disney, picked a unique and effective way to advertise his passion for automobiles. He made one hugely successful animated love letter to them with Cars, and now he’s wrapped its sequel.


Pixar has dominated the Best Animated Film Oscar in recent years with its unique blend of family-friendly characters with grown-up savvy themes and humor. To keep that adult audience interested while the kids enjoy the 3D animation, Cars 2 transitions from the small town Americana of the fictional Radiator Springs, Arizona to the more action-packed world of international racing against a backdrop of action-packed espionage.


As Chief Creative Officer for Disney and Pixar’s Principal Creative Advisor, Lasseter is a two-time Academy Award-winning director and oversees all films and associated projects for both studios. He was maybe destined to rule the Disney roost as he served as a Jungle Cruise Skipper at Disneyland in Anaheim after graduating.


At Pixar, he’s directed Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and both Cars films. Additionally, he produced Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL•E, Bolt, The Princess and the Frog and Up. He’s opened the Cannes Film Festival and holds the historic distinction of producing Pixar’s Tin Toy – the first computer animated film to win an Academy Award when it received the 1988 statue for Best Animated Short Film.


He’s received a Special Achievement Oscar, the Outstanding Contribution to Cinematic Imagery Award from the Art Directors Guild and an honorary degree from the American Film Institute.  Finally, he took home the Producers Guild of America’s 2010 David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Motion Pictures, making him the first animated films maven to receive it.


With all of those accolades piled up in his office, you’d think Lasseter’s first great passion was and is filmmaking. But, it’s not. He’s a true gear-head, a man who grew up around cars and still holds the huge toy car collection he built as a kid. He’s a son who picked up a love for internal combustion from his father and maintains that passion into his own fatherhood.


During a recent press roll-out for Cars 2 at Pixar’s studio grounds in California’s Bay Area, Lasseter shared with CraveOnline how his love of metal, chrome and rubber forged the animated monument millions will enjoy this summer.


CraveOnline: What triggered your love of cars?


John Lasseter: I grew up in Whittier, California. My dad was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership all my life, and I worked there during my vacations and summers. That was the golden era of the American muscle cars – especially the Chevys. So, I have motor oil in my blood. I’ve always loved cars.


Fortunately for me, I’m married to an amazing woman – Nancy Lasseter – who is wise enough not to let me buy every car I want. If I was single, I would be living in a very small apartment and renting a warehouse full of cool cars.


I am proud of one very special collector’s car that I own – a 1952 Jaguar XK 120. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cars ever designed. On family vacations, we have a motorhome – Betty – that we travel around in – and we have a tow vehicle. It’s a 1962 Ford Falcon, named Arnold. So, I’ve traveled all over the United States with Betty and Arnold and discovered that every single person in the United States seems to have a Ford Falcon story of some kind.


CraveOnline: While the original Cars was a small town story, you’ve moved into the world of international auto racing for the sequel. When did you decide to expand into that world?


John Lasseter: I remember doing international publicity for the first Cars at the Spanish Grand Prix – a Formula One race. I’d attended and enjoyed a lot of NASCAR events, but I’ve never experienced Formula One in person before, and it was just, “Wow!” I thought then that I’d like to bring our characters into an international racing world like that.


CraveOnline: Now – besides the international racing angle – in the tradition of James Bond’s Aston Martin and Lotus super cars, you’ve moved Cars 2 into the spy world. What was the motivation there?


John Lasseter: In the original Cars, there was supposed to be a scene at a drive-in. When we were working on the original, we asked, “What movie will they be watching?” So, it was going to be a movie within a movie about a spy car, Finn McMissile. I love spy movies – James Bond, The Man from UNCLE – and cars are such a huge part of those stories. I’ve got five sons, and we watch those movies constantly.


That didn’t get included in the original film, but I just loved the idea of a spy car. I never forgot about it, and we decided to make that a big element in Cars 2. I think it gives grown-ups something extra to enjoy in a family movie.


Photo Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN.com