Pixar’s Cars 3 is a huge change of pace for the franchise. The film sees Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) blindsided when a new generation of faster, more powerful, and younger racers join the racing circuit. Determined to stay in the sport that he loves, Lightning goes through a new-age training regiment with the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), an eager young technician who has her own plans for winning. And while they might not agree on which training method works, they discover they need each other to reach their goals more than they realized.
We were fortunate enough to attend the press day of Pixar’s latest animated film where the attendees talked about who inspires them, some of their personal struggles, how one person can make the difference, and more. Check out what they had so say here below.
Cars 3 is the eighteenth Pixar film. Now releasing the third film in the trilogy, the Cars franchise has endured much criticism for being one of the weakest films on the animation studio’s slate. But it has a devoted fan base. And while the trilogy is well-known for having Owen Wilson voice the legendary Lightning McQueen, the actor has a different group of people to credit for the film’s success. “I think it’s the animators – who did a pretty good job,” Wilson said. He recalled when the animators were still trying to figure out how they were going to design the faces of these characters that would make them more relatable. “There’s something that’s kind of human or inviting about the expressions, and I think that is what kind of helps make them more relatable and life-like to people. I think that’s a big part of it. And the voice.”
The future of Lightning McQueen’s career comes into question when new next-gen racers join the racing circuit. Armie Hammer, who voices Jackson Storm, says his character will bring about change. “They’re faster. They’re stronger. They are better looking,” Hammer joked. “I’m just saying, I mean look at that thing,” the actor said in jest as he pointed to a model of Storm Jackson. “It’s pretty damn good looking. I want to take it home.” Joking aside, the actor said there’s “a big paradigm shift in a world where so much of it is in the love of the game.”
Cristela Alonzo, who voices Cruz Ramirez, Lightning’s trainer and racing technician, says her character is good at what she does but at the same time has doubts about herself regarding the same skill she uses to coach the cars to be the best they can be. “What I like about Cruz is that she is relatable to boys and girls, and you might have doubts about things and you don’t know how you’re going to pull something off, but at the end of the day the only way to make sure to do you best is to actually just go for it and trust your instincts,” Alonzo said. “That’s something we all struggle with at times. The whole idea that you think you can do something and then you have doubts, and then you realize ‘Forget the doubts, it’s going to happen anyway, just try our best and let’s see what happens.’ I love that about her.”
For Kerry Washington, she is just happy to be a part of a franchise she is such a fan of. But she emphasized the importance of having a strong female character like Cruz and her character, Natalie Certain. “I do think it’s fun to see women in the film who are brave, smart, courageous, and also teachable,” Washington said. “That balance of having extraordinary talent and intellect, and are also humble enough to learn the lessons they have to learn by the end of the film. To learn that you have to step into your greatness and that it is not as simple as numbers. Heart and passion are the most important thing.”
Alonzo added that sometimes we tend to forget it is about skill. “We don’t really reference that she is a girl,” said the comedian. “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. It’s about the best person doing the best that they can.” She added that it was a great way to get a story about female empowerment out there by reminding everyone that we are all pretty much alike.
In Cars 3, Lightning takes on the role of mentor, a role that was once filled by the late Paul Newman who voiced Doc Hudson, another legendary racer in the Cars franchise. For Washington, she says Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes is one of her biggest mentors. “I really look up to her as a leader, a mom, a citizen of the world,” Washington said. “I think she’s pretty badass. Can you say badass at a Pixar press conference?”
Alonzo said that there are two huge influences in her life. One being her mom, who is an immigrant from Mexico who sacrificed so much to help her achieve her dreams. “With her I learned that hard work, being nice, and giving it your all is the best way to succeed.” She also credits her drama teachers in school for steering her in this direction. “My drama teacher forced me to go into theater because he saw something in me and changed my schedule without me knowing,” Alonzo said. “I grew up in a border town and acting is a million miles away from that. I always thought I would end up doing a blue collar job like everybody else in my family. And my teachers really taught me that if I wanted to dream I could go do it.”
Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, there isn’t much opportunity for growth and most likely live well below poverty, so it was important for Alonzo to be in this movie because it was a way for her and the movie to tell kids that they matter. “When you come from a family that doesn’t have a lot, a lot of the times the parents forget to tell the kids that they matter because they are too busy trying to survive,” Alonzo said. “I want my family to know back home because my brothers still live there and I visit there often, I want people down there to know that it is possible to have a dream and achieve it. Because every day I wake up so grateful to have the opportunities that I have, and it came from living in an area where everybody is so warm kind and loving.” She wants them to know that she carries that area with her everywhere she goes because it is such a rarity and she loves that she has a chance to do it.
As parents, the cast opened up about what the film meant to them as mentors. Wilson said it was exciting for him to watch the movie with his family, especially since his kids were running around the park having fun. While Hammer’s daughter may be too young now, he says she’s just now starting to appreciate movies and that he was happy to be in a movie that carries on that kind of message. For Washington, it was being able to watch the film with her mother and daughter. “It was really special to have three generations of women watching this film that is so much about empowerment beyond gender,” Washington said. “It resonated for all three of us, and it’s an honor to be a part of a film that embraces everybody’s heart.” She said it’s very special to be a part of it as a woman of color because while the film doesn’t say Cruz is a Latina specifically, one would assume with a name like Cruz that she is.
And the cast agreed that no one achieves greatness by themselves. Going back to the subject of mentorship, Wilson said that we all do need encouragement and everybody, sometimes, falls a little bit short or fails and that we are all part of a community. He says that director Brian Fee and producer Kevin Reher even tried to get some of the cast to record together because that message is such a big part of the movie. Alonzo said the film helps reset so many of the relationships in the film. “It’s interesting to see the relationships between a boy car and a girl car, and they aren’t romantically involved,” Alonzo said. “It’s actually a sincere mentorship. You realize you can actually help each other and you can have that friendship and have that connection.” Though the characters have different levels of experience, they all have something to learn from each other, and that is what she loves about the movie. “You can’t dismiss the kids that like iPads, and you can’t dismiss the people that grew up with VCRs,” Alonzo joked.
On her approach to the character, Alonzo said she did it the same way she does her standup, on an economic level. She makes sure it’s for everybody and is specific. “Because I grew up so poor, I want poor kids to know they have a shot at doing it,” Alonzo said. “For me, the lesson surpasses gender and actually goes to the childhood that somebody has. I think we don’t have enough stories about female characters in a world with male characters where they get to succeed in a way that isn’t romantic. It’s being empowered and succeeding. I think it surpasses gender. Any kid that feels disenfranchised or disappointed or doesn’t belong or ‘What’s the point?’, this is a story for them. This is a story about hope and we need more stories like that.”
Cars 3 opens in theaters on June 16, 2017.