Animated Shorts: Disney's 'Cars Toons' Team

Starting Monday, October 27th, fans of Disney/Pixar’s film Cars are in for a series of quick treats. At that time, the Disney Channel will unveil what they are calling Cars Toons. They are a series of interstitial shorts featuring Larry the Cable Guy as Mater, the loveable tow truck of Radiator Springs. The ‘toons will appear on Disney Channel, Toon Disney and ABC Family.

We had a sit down with the series co-directors, Victor Navone (who worked on the short “Mater and the Ghost Light,” too) and Rob Gibbs about the project. Here’s what they had to say:

Newsarama: In your own words, what are Cars Toons now?

Victor Navone: Basically these are interstitial shorts for Disney Channel and elsewhere featuring the characters from Cars, but mainly Mater. We’re going to put him into new and ridiculous situations.

Rob Gibbs: The format we’re using is called “Mater’s Tall Tales.” Each one will start off with Mater telling a story about his past. It’s up to Lightning to figure out if it is true, or was it?

VN: They are highly suspicious tales.

RG: They will always involve McQueen at some point. Usually unwillingly.

NRAMA: I take it you did get Larry The Cable Guy for this.

VN: Absolutely.

NRAMA: Where was Owen Wilson? Crashing a wedding?

VN: He wasn’t available. We got a great guy to replace him named Keith Ferguson who does a really great imitation of Owen.

NRAMA: Would you say this in the same vein as the “Ghost Light” short or something like that?

RG: Well, Victor worked on “Ghost Light.”

VN: It is sort of in that vein. We’re doing them just for laughs. Actually, I would say it’s more in line with the old Warner Brothers shorts in the sense of a character like Bugs Bunny would always find himself in some sort of weird situation. These are kind of like that too. It could all be Mater’s imagination. Because of that, he could be anywhere; whether he’s in Spain or San Francisco.

NRAMA: So how many of these are you doing initially?

VN: Right now we’ve just put the wraps on three. Beyond that, we don’t know. We’ve still got lots of ideas. Look at it that way.

NRAMA: So this is going to be an ongoing thing?

RG: Probably. There’s no official word, but yeah. We do have some things that are in the process.

VN: We do know that John Lasetter is very excited about them.

NRAMA: Well, weren’t these John’s baby from the beginning?

VN: Yes.

NRAMA: So what’s it like working on a project of his?

RG: At first, when we started working on them, we had no idea it was going to take off like this. We also didn’t know John was going to take so much interest in this. When he saw the ideas that we had, he got really interested. Even though he was so busy with everything else he does at Disney, he made sure to carve off some time every week and sit in on editorial and look through them.

VN: He’s really, really into these Cars Toons. He probably contributed as much as anyone else who was involved.

NRAMA: Was that a good thing having the boss looking over your shoulder?

VN: It was a good thing. He gave us really good notes and direction. At the same time, he really let us run with a lot of ideas of our own. It’s really been a great mentor situation for us.

NRAMA: So with the Looney Tunes, are you going more in a Bob Clampett direction? Chuck Jones? Who?

VN: I suppose Chuck Jones. There’s more subtlety in there than Clampett or Avery.

RG: There’s some Tex Avery.

VN: It plays mostly within the rules set up in the Cars universe, like the specific style of animation.

NRAMA: So what are some of the adventures Mater goes on?

RG: There’s one where Mater claims he used to be a fire truck. He was part of a rescue squad with an ambulance, a state trooper and two choppers.

VN: It’s kind of like a send-up of those old 70s shows. We gave it a more funky style.

RG: With each one we gave it its own style. The 70s one comes with its own distinct music and very 70s camera work.

VN: Another is where Mater purports to be a Spanish bull fighter. In fact, we call it “Mater-Dor.” We shoot it a lot like a spaghetti Western.

RG: Also lots of flamenco guitar and giant bulldozers.

VN: The third is where Mater is an Evel Knievel-styled daredevil. He has a stunt outfit on and is jumping canyons.

NRAMA: Any inclusion of Doc Hudson, considering Paul Newman?

RG: No. We were well aware of Newman’s situation and decided to keep it focussed on Mater.

VN: You might see him in the background though. When you only have 2-3 minutes per short, you tend to keep your focus on the main character.

RG: We just felt the quicker we got into the situation, the funnier the short would be. When you are working on that short of time, you have to compress a lot.

NRAMA: Would you say this could lead to a Mater half-hour special or something like that?

RG: There’s nothing like that in the work.

VN: Not on my watch.

NRAMA: Did having the characters and settings already developed help speed the process?

VN: It did save time on the front end. We still had to build lots and lots of new sets though. We also worked with very small crews.

RG: Early on it was very much like guerilla filming. We weren’t really sure what we were doing. In the beginning, we were just this crew working in a room doing storyboards.

VN: It took us six months to crank out these three. When all was said and done you will see we didn’t cut any corners.

NRAMA: What about the future for you guys?

RG: There are so many things in production over here. I tend to jump from project to project anyway. So I’ll always be busy.

VN: Yeah. If you got to be stuck anywhere, it might as well be here.

The shorts premiere as follows on Toon Disney (all times ET/PT):

Monday, October 27 (6:56 p.m.): RESCUE SQUAD MATER -- Mater is a fire truck that rescues Lightning McQueen from a burning building. When McQueen is rushed to the hospital, he discovers that Mater is a doctor, too.

Tuesday, October 28 (6:57 p.m.): MATER THE GREATER -- Mater is a famous daredevil who does all kinds of stunts. And Lightning McQueen becomes an unwilling participant in Mater's greatest stunt ever.

Wednesday, October 29 (6:57 p.m.): EL MATERDOR -- Mater is a famous bulldozer fighter in Spain. He's so good, he's able to fend off multiple bulldozers at once. Lightning McQueen joins Mater in this tall tale just as things are at their worst.

Disney Channel will present all three shorts throughout the day on Saturday, November 1. ABC Family will present the shorts beginning Tuesday, December 23 during the network's annual "25 Days of Christmas" programming event.


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