The characters are what drives Pixar-produced movies, and "Cars is no exception.
"When they write these movies at Pixar, they start with the heart of the character first," says Bonnie Hunt, the actress who serves as the voice of Sally Carrera. "Once the heart is there, it doesn't matter what's on the outside so even a car becomes a character and a personality. [Director] John Lasseter and the artists at Pixar provide the imagination that is the gold mine of their storytelling process. Anything that you can possibly visualize in your mind, they bring to life."
Here's a look at each of the "Cars" characters:
Poised to become the youngest car ever to win the Piston Cup Championship, this hotshot rookie race car has just two things on his mind: winning and the perks that come with it. Actor Owen Wilson ("Bottle Rocket," "Shanghai Noon," "Meet the Fockers," and "Wedding Crashers") is the voice of the brash race car who learns that life is about the journey.
"John would walk me through the storyboards and sometimes show me some rough animation to get me up to speed," says Wilson about the dialog recording sessions. "You get a good idea of what's going on from the script, but a lot of times it involves using your imagination. It kind of felt like when you were a kid, and you would do funny animated voices. You're dreaming the stuff up and creating a character."
The car design visuals were inspired by numerous sources. "To get some insights into McQueen, we studied famous cocky characters who are also charming," says directing animator James Ford Murphy. "We looked at guys like Joe Namath, Muhammed Ali, and even Kid Rock. All these guys are super cocky but you still like them. Owen was really able to get that across, where he says something cocky, but he says it in such a charming way that you almost don't hear what he's saying."
McQueen was fondly named after actor Steve McQueen, the "king of cool" and an avid car racer who starred in films like "Le Mans."
As McQueen's trusted driver, he is willing to push the limits of his own sanity and sleep requirements to accommodate his celebrity employer, even if it means falling asleep at the wheel and losing his boss. The back of Mack's truck is McQueen's luxurious bachelor pad, and it's fully loaded with the best in fiber optics, TVs, massage chairs, and more.
No Pixar film is complete without a vocal performance by John Ratzenberger of "Cheers" fame, and in "Cars," the character actor takes on the voice of the 1985 Mack Super-Liner. Having provided voices for all six of Pixar's previous films, he's known as the studio's good luck charm.
"I'm the lucky one," says Ratzenberger. "Pixar creates history with each one of their films and I feel lucky to be a part of it. 'Cars' really took my breath away. At first you're struck by the detail, and then you forget you're watching an animated feature about cars. It really tugs at your heart strings."
Otherwise known as Strip Weathers, this 1970 Plymouth Superbird is a racing legend who has won more Piston Cups races than any other car in history. Despite his fame, he's a down-home guy who knows it takes more than trophies to make a true champion. He believes in hard work, team playing, and making time for his wife, Mrs. The King. Racing legend Richard Petty, a seven-time NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship winner, lends his voice to this classy champ. His wife, Lynda, provides a cameo voice as The King's car-mate.
This racing veteran is a ruthless competitor, who has bumped and cheated his way into more second-place finishes than any other car. Forever living in The King's shadow, he's the consummate runner-up and will stop at nothing to win the Dinoco sponsorship. Actor Michael Keaton ("Mr. Mom," "Batman," and "Herbie: Fully Loaded") gets down and dirty as the voice of this hard-driving road warrior.
The Cars of Radiator Springs
A seemingly quiet country doctor with a mysterious past, this 1951 Hudson Hornet is the cornerstone of Radiator Springs. Respected and admired by the townsfolk, Doc is a car of few words and is unimpressed by the town's newest arrival: Lightning McQueen. Oscar winner Paul Newman gives a winning performance as the voice of this venerable vehicle.
"The vocal aspect of Doc's character came very quickly," says Newman, an actor as well as a serious race car driver. He's listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the oldest driver to win a professionally sanctioned race, a feat he accomplished at the 24 Hours of Daytona race in 1995 when he was 70. "[Doc] was southern, he was old, he was tired, and he was smart. Doing a voice for an animated film is so different from making a live-action film. You bring nothing physical to the role. You don't bring your appearance or your physical mannerisms; you don't bring anything except your voice. That's the only instrument that you have. I took a lot of the stuff he said, and tried to give it to the director exactly as he wanted, and then I tried to augment and exaggerate it."
This sporty Porsche from California grew tired of life in the fast lane and made a new start for herself in Radiator Springs. As the proprietor of the Cosy Cone Motel, and one of the town's most optimistic boosters, she has high hopes that Radiator Springs will one day return to its former glory and wind up "back on the map." She takes an instant shine to Lightning McQueen and helps to steer him in the right direction. In her third assignment for Pixar, multi-talented actress/filmmaker Bonnie Hunt ("A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc.," "Cheaper By the Dozen") gives a premium performance.
This good ol' boy tow truck may be a bit rusty on the outside, but he has the quickest towrope in Carburettor County and is always the first to lend a helping hand. Sweet and loyal to a fault, Mater befriends McQueen. Stand-up comedy sensation Larry the Cable Guy gives a "tow-de-force" vocal performance that's both funny and touching.
"Mater is a little bit like me, actually," says Larry. "He's grown up in a small town his whole life, and I'm from a town of 1,200. And what he thinks is fun and exciting, somebody in the city would go, 'That's stupid. Why would you do somethin' like that?' But in his world, it's the most exciting thing he's ever done. If you ever wanted a friend, you'd want Mater. He's McQueen's buddy to the end, and he'd do anything for that guy. There's not a mean bone in his rusty body."
Mater was an audience favorite who was just as popular with the animators. "In a way he became the centerpiece of the movie," says Doug Sweetland, supervising animator. "Animators loved to work on the character because he was so physical and gave them a lot to sink their teeth into. The model provided a little more freedom because the truck had a separate cab and bed, and then there was the tow cable that you could incorporate as a tail, or even twirl like a helicopter. Mater does all sorts of stuff with it. And Larry the Cable Guy gave us a lot to work with, too. He's so funny and yet his performance has so much heart. To me, it's one of those incredibly perfect voices, like Sterling Holloway with Winnie the Pooh."
"Mater is the definition of true friendship," says director John Lasseter. "Joe [Ranft] and I loved this beat-up rusty tow truck that was always there for his friends. More than any other character that we've created at Pixar, I'm probably proudest of Mater."
The resident hippie is a 1960 VW bus who brews his own organic fuel and preaches its many benefits. His conspiracy theories, unkempt yard, and electric-guitar renditions of the "Star-Spangled Banner" don't sit well with his patriotic neighbor, Sarge, but despite their frequent disagreements, they can't live without one another. Comedy legend George Carlin -- the creator of the stand-up character The Hippy-Dippy Weatherman and other hippie-era favorites -- gives a far-out performance as the voice of this peace-loving bus.
This patriotic 1942 WWII Willy's Army jeep runs the army surplus store, Sarge's Surplus Hut, and is seen manicuring the lawn in front of his Quonset hut into a precise flat-top. Although he likes to complain about his VW bus neighbor, he knows that life is more interesting with Fillmore around. Actor Paul Dooley ("Breaking Away," and "Desperate Housewives") sounds off as this regimented vehicle whose bark is worse than his bite.
The proprietor of Ramone's House of Body Art, this 1959 Impala low-rider is a true wizard with paint and metal, but he hasn't had anyone to customize in years. While waiting for a paying customer to come along, he re-paints himself daily and hopes that McQueen will let him add a few new flourishes. Comedian/actor Cheech Marin delivers a colorful vocal performance.
Married to Ramone and the owner of Flo's V-8 Cafe, Flo is a sassy, no-nonsense 1950s show car. Offering the "finest fuel in 50 states," Flo's is a popular gathering spot for the locals to sip some oil, share some gossip, and listen to a little motherly advice from Flo herself. It was love at first sight for Flo and Ramone when they met while she was traveling across country as a glamorous Motorama girl. Jenifer Lewis goes with the "flo" as the voice of this spirited character.
Big-hearted, gregarious, and excitable, this 1959 Fiat 500 runs the local tire shop, Luigi's Casa Della Tires, which is the "Home of the Leaning Tower of Tires." With his forklift pal, Guido, by his side, Luigi is an avid race car fan (with a bias toward Ferraris) who is always eager to please. Business hasn't been good in years, so any car can count on a bargain for a new set of wheels from this merry merchant. Tony Shalhoub ("Monk," "Big Night") puts the accent on comedy in this tireless performance.
Route 66 expert and author Michael Wallis provides the voice of this 1949 Mercury Police Cruiser, sworn with upholding the peace in Radiator Springs. Always on the prowl for would-be speeders who might want to barrel through his town, Sheriff enjoys telling stories about his beloved Mother Road and taking the occasional nap behind the town's billboard.
In the final section, we'll give you a scene-by-scene breakdown of the movie and let you know what the future holds for 'Cars.'