Pixar’s Cars 3 is a bit of a shift in gear for the franchise that has long seen Lighting McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) as a hotshot racer who could never lose. After learning about humality and friendship in the first two films, Lighting must come to grips with a new era of younger, faster, stronger, and hi-tech racers looking at a shot to claim the title of the best. Blindsided by these Next Gen racers, Lighting gets involved in a near career ending crash. But he is determined to get back on track, and he will be helped by an eager Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) who once had racing aspirations of her own.
While it is hard to say no to voicing a character in a Pixar film, Alonzo said it was Cruz’s arc that really resonated with her and made her want to be a part of the film. “We don’t really reference that she is a girl. We don’t really reference that she is a girl,” said the comedian. “We don’t reference that she is a female driver. We actually talk about how good she is and we see it in the story. It’s one of those lessons that I think we tend to forget about. It’s not about a boy or a girl. It’s about the best person doing the best that they can.”
The comedian says we tend to forget that it is all about skill. While Cruz may be young, she has the experience and to back up her training methods. Although that is often overlooked because Lighting believes he knows more than her. “The thing about her is she’s very good at what she does, but at the same time she still has doubts about herself regarding the same skill she uses to coach the cars the best they can be,” said Alonzo. “What I like about Cruz is that I think that she is relatable to boys and girls in that you may have doubts about things and you don’t know how you’re going to pull something off, but at the end of the day you realize the only way you can do your best is to actually just go for it and trust your instincts.
She added that is something we all struggle with at times. “The whole idea that you think you can do something, and then you have doubts, and you realize ‘Forget the doubts, it’s going to happen anyways, just try your best and see what happens.’ I love that about her,” Alonzo said.
Alonzo credits her mom for sacrificing so much to give her an opportunity to something they never thought was possible. “With her I learned that hard work, being nice, and giving it your all is the best way to succeed,” Alonzo said.
She also credits her drama teachers for encouraging her to follow her dreams, even if that meant changing her classes without her knowing. “I grew up in a boarder town, and acting is millions of miles away from that,” Alonzo said. “I always thought I would end up doing a blue color job like everyone else in my family. My teachers taught me that if I wanted to dream I could go do it. Which is why I love this movie so much because it has the same theme.”
Having been raised in the Rio Grande Valley, where the majority of people that live there live well below poverty, Alonzo says that this is the kind of film that tells kids that they matter. “When you come from a family that doesn’t have a lot, the parents tend to forget to tell the kids that they matter, because they are too busy trying to survive,” Alonzo said. “I want them to know it’s possible to have a dream and achieve it because everyday I wake up so grateful to have the opportunities that I have and it came from living in an era where everybody is so warm, kind, and loving. I want them to know that everyday and every opportunity that I do, I carry that area with me, because I know it’s such a rarity.”
On her character of Cruz, the one thing that she likes about her relationship with Lighting is that it resets them. “It’s interesting and refreshing to see a relationship between a boy car and a girl car, and they aren’t romantic,” Alonzo said. “It is actually a sincere mentorship because you realize you can help each other and have that friendship and you can have that connection.” She said what she loves about it is that you can’t dismiss someone who is younger or inexperienced or more experienced. “The lesson in the story is that we all have something to learn from each other and that’s very telling to something we can apply to life in general. You can’t dismiss the kids that like iPads and you can’t dismiss the people that grew up with VCRs.”
Alonzo approached the character the same way she approaches her standup, non-specific and inclusive. “It’s not really about boys and girls. For me really, I approach it on an economic level. Because I grew up so poor, I want poor kids to know they have a shot at doing it,” Alonzo said. “For me, the lessons surpasses gender and actually goes to the childhood that somebody has. I think we don’t have enough stories about female characters in a world with male characters where they get to succeed in a way that isn’t romantic. It’s being empowered and succeeding. I think it surpasses gender. Any kid that feels disenfranchised or disappointed or doesn’t belong or “what’s the point,” this is a story for them. This is a story about hope and we need more stories like that.”
Cars 3 opens in theaters on June 16, 2017