It’s been over 10 years since Lightning McQueen first raced onto the Pixar scene and won our hearts (and the Piston Cup!) with the original Cars movie. Well, now ol’ #95 is back with the release of Disney’s Cars 3!
On my recent Disney Blogger Press Trip (dubbed #Cars3Event), myself and two dozen bloggers got a whirlwind tour of all things Cars 3. There were loads of behind-the-scenes interviews, a tour of Pixar Studios and even a few laps around Sonoma Raceway. To say we became one with Cars 3 is an understatement.
All of the trips, interviews, races, tire-changing, etc., wouldn’t mean much if the end result was flat, though. If Cars 3 was just another ho-hum type film, it certainly would’ve lessened the impact of all those amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Well, I’m happy to say that the opposite is quite true. Cars 3 is full of just as much heart (possibly more) as every other Pixar film to date. We only saw about 45 minutes of unfinished footage of Cars 3, but when the lights came up, there wasn’t a blogger around that wasn’t screaming for more. And that’s not an exaggeration. We saw roughly the middle 45 minutes of the film so we’re all dying to know how it ends!
Cars 3 tells the story of Lightning McQueen, a race car champion who’s near the end of his career. He’s older. Slower. Not quite washed up yet, but when the shiny new models like Jackson Storm are taking the world by… well, storm…. it’s tough for a former champion to even stay relevant. Everyone’s pretty much accepted that McQueen’s done racing. Everyone, that is, except for McQueen himself.
Teaming up with a new trainer, the young, super-energetic Cruz Ramirez, McQueen sets his goals on beating Jackson Storm once and for all and proving to the world that he’s still a champion.
I won’t give anything away, but everything you loved about the original Cars film is here in Cars 3. The story is one very relatable to adults too: How do you deal with change in life? Yes, there’s loads of humor, fantastic race scenes, hilarious training sessions and all your favorite characters make a return as well. (Luigi!)
There are also a ton of new characters joining the gang, as well as some fabulous new voice actors in Nathan Fillion and Kerry Washington! It’s amazing how the Cars franchise itself has been around this long and that after seeing Cars 3, it may very well just be getting started!
Now it wouldn’t be a Pixar movie without an animated short to kick things off would it? Nope! And before you strap yourself in for Cars 3, you’ll be bombarded with all the feels thanks to the amazingly adorable animated short LOU.
I can’t really say much about LOU without giving things away. I’ll just give an overview of the story by explaining that it takes place on a school playground and deals with the very relevant topic of bullying. And it may very well be one of my favorite animated shorts so far.
It’s hilarious. It’s touching. It’s insanely creative. And when the credits rolled during our preview there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Other than myself of course. I mean, my eyes might’ve been tearing a little but that was totally from allergies or something…
We had the privilege of listening to a fascinating presentation by LOU Director Dave Mullins and Producer Dana Murray. We saw the crazy evolution of the character LOU, as well as loads of unused sketches and designs.
The entire process of just getting an animated short approved is exhausting! There are so many rounds of approvals in terms of just the basic story concept! And then the character designs. And that’s all before the actual work has really even begun.
Dave had been pitching animated shorts for eight years before he finally got the green light from Pixar. That meant the hard work was just beginning.
“It was really entertaining to see LOU right off the bat,” said Dave, “because there was nothing mysterious about him when you see everything about him when the film starts. We decided to hide him in the beginning of the film to give this moment a much bigger impact. Soon, I learned that what pitched well did not necessarily play well on the screen. It happens every time you go into a new department and more significantly in the earlier stages of a film. So when you go from script to story, story to edit, edit to animation something new is learned every time. It was at this point we got some pretty big notes from the studio. I didn’t fully understand at the time that with Pixar you’re never really done with story.”
Pixar is most definitely all about telling a great story. So with all of those notes, it was now Dana’s job to work with Dave and figure out which notes they were going to use to improve the story and which ones they’d simply ignore. It’s at that point, when the two of them dove into reshaping Lou that something magical happened.
“We went back to the drawing board,” she said, “and something unexpected happened. By continuing to work on the story we found some humor and entertainment that was missing from the original version of the film. In the end we stayed with the original idea but we learned some things. It was a great lesson in being open to radically different ideas because at Pixar the best idea always wins. So once we were back on track with our story, we had to build, articulate and texture not only our main character but also a ton of schoolyard kids and the set.”
“We had to figure out a way to build him so that the animators could actually move him without going crazy,” said Dave. “We needed to turn this stuff into this. We decided that everything would need to be animated by hand, so there’s no computer shortcuts or simulations that we ran to make this character feel alive. It is fully animation. And believe it or not this is actually the simplest solution. I still have animators cursing my name to the state because of it. At Pixar we love these types of challenges and the animators were totally up to the task.”
You’ll also find loads of Easter Eggs in LOU, so keep your eye out for other Pixar-themed tributes. But best one of all has to be the fact that the bully’s name is JJ. His initials actually stand for “Joyce Jean.” That’s a tribute to Dave’s mom. Of course when your mom finds out you named a bully after her, you can pretty much anticipate her response.
“My mom called me on this,” he said, “and said did you think I was a bully? I was like no mom I just wanted to have someone immortalized in the film in the film that I loved.”
And if you’re anything like me (or the two dozen bloggers sitting in that theater next to me), you will absolutely love Lou.