"It's a spy film. It's not a parody of a spy film. It is a spy film. It's just with cars as characters."
That's how director and Pixar honcho John Lasseter described his latest movie, "Cars 2." I talked to him at George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch after he completed a long day of sound editing.
The original 2006 movie, "Cars," was anything but a spy flick. That film was a gentle, overtly nostalgic tale about a hotshot race car -- Lightning McQueen —- who, after getting waylaid in the Podunk hamlet of Radiator Springs, learns to kick back and enjoy the quiet charms of small-town life. Think "Doc Hollywood" meets "American Graffiti."
For "Cars 2," Lasseter drew from some very different flicks.
"I would say the biggest influence has been the three 'Bourne' movies — 'Bourne Identity,''Bourne Supremacy,''Bourne Ultimatum'; I just love those films."
He also credits the '60s TV show "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." along with, of course, the 007 series.
"What we like to do with Pixar is to change genres when we do a sequel, so it's not the same story," said Lasseter. "It's not the same emotional arc."
Judging from the 26-minute preview that I managed to see, "Cars 2" does indeed have a different emotional arc. It has the propulsive, heart-pounding energy of the "Bourne" movies. The opening, where an automotive secret agent squares against a vehicular villain on a deep-sea oil platform, is worthy of a Bond flick. There are explosions, flamethrowers, death rays, and at least one "carate" fight scene.
In this go-around, Lightning, along with his rusted-out tow truck sidekick Mater, travel the world for an international racing competition. In Tokyo, Mater finds himself embroiled in an international web of intrigue that puts his very life at risk.
Fortunately, the aforementioned agent, Finn McMissile -- loosely based on a '60s-era Aston Martin, of course, and voiced by Michael Caine -- comes to the rescue.
The idea for Finn McMissile came originally during production of the first "Cars" movie. At the end of the movie, Lightning and his girlfriend, Sally Carrera, are at a drive-in movie theater.
"We needed a movie that was playing up on the screen. So that's where we came up with the idea of a spy car named Finn McMissile with a spy movie."
While that idea didn't quite make in the final cut, Lasseter stowed the it away, eventually spinning it into the basis for the sequel. Another inspiration for the movie was planted when Lasseter was traveling around the world to promote "Cars."
"I kept thinking about how funny it would be with Mater and McQueen getting lost in Tokyo or getting stuck in the roundabouts at the Arc de Triomphe or things that are unique to these different places."
"Cars 2" opens June 24. In the meantime, check out this exclusive clip from the movie.