"Cars" marks Pixar's seventh animated film since 1995 and John Ratzenberger has lent his voice to every one.
"It's like a Capra movie where every single character's got their own story arc," says Ratzenberger of the Pixar process. "It's not just the two characters up front and everybody else's forgotten about. Their attention to detail is phenomenal, so for me, to be able to work with them, on a yearly basis, yeah, it's a treat."
Ratzenberger, who plays a Mack Truck named Mack in the colorful family comedy, has been described as Pixar's good luck charm. In "Cars," he can be heard along with a slew of famous and familiar voices, some of whom were getting their first taste of the Pixar experience.
"I found it very vivid and invigorating because you can have a line and you can say that it's wrong and you can just jump on it and do it 60 different ways very back-to-back," says Oscar winner Paul Newman, who gives speech to a 1951 Hudson Hornet. "This way is wonderful, because you can just keep improvising and improving on it or making it completely different or changing words or... You just have a lot more freedom."
For Cheech Marin, no stranger to the soundbooth after recording some of the most popular comedy albums of all-time, jobs like this are a chance to let loose.
"It's a different kind of acting," notes Marin, a 1959 Impala low-ride in the film. "It's like sculpting with a chainsaw, you know. The arcs you describe are real big. It's very broad and it's very loud. I've always found that you can't get too big in animation because you're competing with this huge image that you have to match a voice to."
Of course, some of the actors took a more Method approach to their jobs.
"When they thought of a tow truck they had me in mind, apparently," says Larry the Cable Guy, voice of amiable tow truck Mater. "I got into the character, though. They told me I was going to play a tow truck, so I put on 1,700 pounds. I've actually lost some weight since we done that. Then I found out it was a cartoon, and I felt like an idiot."
While the experienced actors in the cast had their ways of getting into character, racing legend Richard Petty, who plays veteran Piston Cup champion The King, mostly got to play himself. The driver, a 1970 Plymouth Superbird in the film, was then shocked to see the final result.
"What fascinated me about the movie was I said, 'Okay, I'm going to go watch a movie and they have cars and trucks and they're going to be talking to each other' and you sit there for a couple of minutes and say to yourself 'How dumb can I be to sit here and watch cars talk to each other?'" recalls Petty, one of NASCAR's most decorated heroes. "Then all of a sudden you're right dead in the middle of the movie, man, and you don't realize... that they aren't real people."
Bonnie Hunt, who also played characters in "A Bug's Life" and "Monsters, Inc." says that it's all just part of the Pixar process.
"From the very beginning, when [director John Lasseter] first called me, we didn't even talk about what type of car it would be," Hunt, voice of Sally, a 2002 Porsche 911, explains. "We just talked character, which is so true to Pixar's passion. So, it's whether you are a bug, a monster, a toy or a car or a fish and you're in a Pixar film, you're going to have a heart and soul and dimension, both technically, artistically and emotionally."
"Cars" hits theaters everywhere on Friday, June 9.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times