Four years ago, I got the incredible opportunity to visit Pixar in Emeryville, Calif. for the first time, to do interviews for Monsters University, and the thing that most stood out to me when I was there was just how much inspiration you feel, surrounded by all of the artistic creativity going on within its walls. Saying that I was excited to return, this time to get an early look at nearly 45 minutes of Cars 3, is a massive understatement.
As part of the experience, Collider got to spend the day at the Sonoma Raceway, participating in presentations about how the story, production design, animation and effects all came together to create what we’ll get to see in theaters on June 16th, as well as getting the opportunity to take a lap around the racetrack and go through pit stop training. We were also able to sit down with producer Kevin Reher and co-producer Andrea Warren to talk about how discussions about Cars 3 evolved, when they knew they had a possible movie to go ahead with, what they love about the Cars franchise, the challenge of giving cars a personality, how cool it is to get to see the actual cars characters come to life, in a tangible way, the biggest challenges with this film, and what fans can expect from this specific story.
Collider: When did the discussions about making a third Cars film start?
KEVIN REHER: John [Lasseter] always feels like these characters are so beloved, but we wouldn’t do a movie, if there wasn’t a story. People ask, “Is there a Cars 4?,” and I say, “If there’s a story.” But also, you want it to be the right story.
ANDREA WARREN: You would never want to compromise the great legacy that the characters have, in the stories that are out there.
REHER: Yeah, so we decided to explore it and see what happened. It was a very long period and it was a very different movie, in the beginning. And then, (director) Brian [Fee] came in and took over, and when he took over, it became a different story. And when Mike Rich, who is one of our writers, came in, it changed again. It’s every 12 to 16 weeks, you go through storyboarding, presenting it to the brain trust, taking our lumps, and starting all over again.
WARREN: We all want to see a great movie, as much as we want to make a great movie. We use ourselves as the barometer. When you see a treatment working, or an outline, or the script is coming together, we all collectively go, “Yeah, I wanna see that movie!” You have to really love it to make it ‘cause it’s such an involved process. You have to start out with the belief in that vision that it will turn into something that you’re really excited to put out there.
Even if it wasn’t something that actually made the movie, what was the spark that made you feel like you had a movie?
REHER: We had a series of writers, and they each added something. It’s not that we go through writers, but they each get us to a certain place. So, when Mike Rich came on – and he was on for 23 months, which is a pretty long period of time – we knew he was the right guy. He’s very soulful, he’s a gentleman, and he’s smart. And nobody makes sports comeback stories like he does, like with Secretariat. He’s really good at that. He took us on a journey of it being a sports comeback story, and then he moved on and Kiel [Murray] and Bob [Peterson] came on. Bob is the king of humor. He’s a very funny writer, and he added so much humor to what was already there. And then, Kiel added a lot of the Cruz drive. Sorry for the pun.
Is that unusual, to bring in a live-action writer on an animated feature?
REHER: A number of our writers, over the years, have come from television. We work in a room, and there’s a head of story, a director and story artists, and everybody’s got an opinion and is talking about what could make the story better. Michael Arndt, on Toy Story 3, had written Little Miss Sunshine, so he came from live-action. It’s a mix. It depends.
WARREN: With writers, they’re from all over the place. It’s about the kind of sensibilities that we’re looking for.
When did you guys really fall in love with the Cars franchise?
REHER: For me, my brother was the sports kid and I was the car kid. My dad didn’t live long enough to see Cars 1, but we have an alias website called Gearheads. We even have Motorama at Pixar, every other year, where they bring cars in. We’re deeply into cars.
WARREN: I worked on the first Cars, and I really came to love that world and those characters through that. It was fun for me, when my daughter was young, because Cars was the first movie we had her watch. It doesn’t have the intensity or scariness. It’s a sweet story. My husband said, “You know, mom worked on Cars.” And it was so cute, she walked up to me afterwards and said, “Thank you, mommy, for making Cars, so I could watch it.” I didn’t have kids when I had made it, so that was just sweet to see. Now, it means so much to both of my children. They love Cars so much. For me, it has a whole new meaning, seeing what their love is for this franchise. Taking them to Cars Land, their complete joy gives me this whole other angle for how much I love it. I’ve been so excited to be able to say, “I’m making another Cars movie!” And they’re so excited and going, “When do I get to see it, mommy?” So, even though it’s a gift to the world, for me, personally, it feels like a gift to my children.
When you worked on the first movie, you had no idea how people would react to it. Was there ever any fear that audiences wouldn’t connect with cars, and whether you could even get their personality across?
WARREN: Yeah, I think that was a question. John [Lasseter] talks a lot about truth in materials and wanting to make the cars really feel like cars, but you do have to make them have emotion. I think giving them stories that are relatable is one of the most important things. I remember when my daughter first watched the first Cars, you’re watching your kid and wondering, “Are you getting this?” It was that moment when he’s in the trailer and the agent is saying, “Invite all your friends!,” and I just remember my daughter said out loud, “But he doesn’t have any friends!” That’s so relatable, in her world of the playground and who’s playing with who. The minute that happened, she was feeling for him, and we all can. We’ve all probably been in some of those lonely moments, with your tray in the lunch hall, or whatever it is. You can immediately connect to that, and suddenly, you’re there with the character. That’s always been our goal, certainly with Cars, but with any character. It’s those moments where we’ve all been there, in some form or another.
REHER: For the adults, it’s the authenticity and the backstory of a town that’s been bypassed, which we did a lot of research on. I went on a number of research trips on Route 66. In this case, we went to North Carolina for the roots of stock car racing and met all of those guys.
WARREN: It’s relatable from a lot of angles.
REHER: Anybody who’s worked and had to retire, or is forced into retirement can relate.