Cars 2 Interviews #4: Director and Studio Founder John Lasseter

In the final part of out Cars 2 interview series, filmed at Pixar in California last month, we speak to John Lasseter about his motivation behind making the sequel and his childhood love of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

There is no convincing argument against the statement that John Lasseter - founder of Pixar Animation Studios, director of the seminal Toy Story and currently Chief Creative Officer of all Disney animation - is a living legend. Under his direction, Pixar have spent the last two decades redefining the way animated movies are made in the US and, to some extent, who they are made for. He has even managed to resurrect Disney Animation Studios after a decade of irrelevance to rival the 1980s, overseeing the production of The Princess and the Frog and, recently, Tangled. But the original Cars, released in 2006, has divided people - with the film widely cited as Pixar's one artistic misstep. With that in mind it'd be easy to dismiss Cars 2 as a cynical cash-in (certainly Disney have made no secret of the brand's ability to shift huge amounts of merchandise), yet, as Wall-E producer Jim Morris argued (during a Disney dinner to promote John Carter), Cars is as auteur as it gets. The original Cars was at its heart a personal story for the director, based on his own childhood love of toy cars and his nostalgia for the fading glory of Route 66. Listening to him talk about the film you could be forgiven for thinking it's his favourite Pixar movie. Meeting the man himself in the company's Berkeley studio last month, there was no doubting his sincere enthusiasm for the film on a story level. Without any sign of artifice, he sported one of his trademark Hawaiian shirts, this time with a Cars 2 design, and was a warm and genuine presence in the room, chatting to our cameraman Dennis about what equipment he had bought along and gushing about the 2008 restoration of Sleeping Beauty when I mentioned how much I admire it. But whilst I could see the popular image of him as the wide-eyed boy-who-never-grew-up, I also detected more than a glimpse of why he is in charge and how he got to the top of his chosen profession. He took the interview incredibly seriously, checking the conditions were perfect before we started filming and telling staff in the halls to quieten down. He was also noticeably prickly when I, perhaps tactlessly, suggested the original film's star, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), had been sidelined in this sequel, with his sidekick Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) now very much the focus of attention. At a studio which dedicates so much time to the mechanics of storytelling and trying to get the balance of a picture just so, this must have sounded like criticism even if it wasn't meant to be taken as such. Listening to him speak there was no doubt in my mind that John Lasseter takes storytelling - takes animation - far too seriously for Cars 2 to exist solely for the sake of merchandise revenue. I imagine the commercial incentives offered by the characters' inherently toyetic design was a factor, but only in so much as it justifies the director's decision to spend more time telling these stories, set in a world he clearly loves. But don't take my word for it, watch the interview below: If you missed the other entries in this Pixar interview series, take a look at all our earlier coverage - with Denise Ream (producer), Emily Mortimer (actress), Jude Brownbill (animator) and Kevin Rose-Williams (editor). Cameraman: Dennis Routledge-Tizzard Editor: Joe Murphy
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.