Pixar

Boy-friendly Cars franchise now has a role model for little girls, with addition of character Cruz Ramirez

New character started out male, but filmmakers wanted movie ‘to say something more’, and draws from life experiences of Latina actress from Texas who voices her

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 12:02pm

After years of being a movie series geared toward boys, Pixar’s Cars franchise finally has a wonder woman with some drive.

With the addition of Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo), the animation studio is shifting gears to appeal more broadly with Cars 3.

“Girls want to see someone who looks like them, doing the thing they’re interested in,” says director Brian Fee. “I have two daughters, eight and 11, and I’m seeing the world through their eyes. I didn’t want this movie to not be for them.“

Cruz is a young trainer hired to whip Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) back into racing shape, calling the older vehicle her “senior project”. But as the two run through driving drills on a sandy beach and survive an insane demolition derby, Cruz reveals to Lightning that she, too, has dreams of being a racer.

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“They learn from each other,” Alonzo says. “We don’t point out that she’s female or a Latina car. We base everything she does on how well she does the work, and that’s a very simple thing to teach kids: If you like something and you really want to do it, if you work hard you can accomplish it.”

Disney/Pixar animation chief John Lasseter acknowledges that filmmakers didn’t want Cars 3 to be “a glass-ceiling story [where] they want to do it but the world prevented them from doing it”. Instead, Pixar went for the female-empowerment angle, which Alonzo appreciated.

“It wasn’t the ‘Girls rule, boys drool’ kind of thing, where I’m like, ‘What does that even mean?!’ ” she says with a laugh. “How about saying everybody can do it if they want to do it? I love Cruz because of that.”

In early versions of the script, Cruz was male before filmmakers started “looking for ways to make it richer and have the movie say something more”, Fee says. After Alonzo was cast, they began pulling from the actress’ life growing up in the Texas border town San Juan and wanting to be a stand-up comedian.

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Cruz gives a speech about being told to dream small, and it comes directly from Alonzo’s childhood: “My family always taught me to be present and not think too far ahead,” she says. “They always wanted to protect me, so I wouldn’t have my heart broken if my dream didn’t come true.”

It’s not all instant girl power, though. Cruz has long questioned her ability to be a real racer, and Alonzo “knows what it’s like to not have the confidence”, she says. Yet Cruz’s dream becomes more of a reality when she starts beating Lightning in practice. “Even when she has doubts about certain parts of her life, she knows she’s very good at other parts of her life,” Alonzo adds. “And I think we all can relate to that.”

Lasseter says Cars was never intended to be seen as a franchise for boys, though he recalls that his wife rolled her eyes and told him, “Now, don’t just make this for you and all your car-guy friends” when the first film was under way. Fee is aware of its reputation but also proud to have a character like Cruz as a role model for his daughters.

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“I’d be having conversations with them about playing a musical instrument and I would say, ‘How about guitar?’ and they would say, ‘Guitars are for boys,’ ” the director says. “They were already seeing certain things are for boys and certain things are for girls, and that’s not a world I want them to inherit.”

Cars 3 opens in US cinemas this week, and on July 13 in Hong Kong