This week, I had the chance to talk with comedian and voice actor Cristela Alonzo about the Disney+ show Inside Pixar. She narrates the latest batch of episodes that debuted on Disney+ today. Collectively titled “Foundations”, these five episodes take viewers behind the scenes at the Pixar studio and give us a chance to see the essential ingredients that make up their animated films.
In our discussion, Cristela talked about her experiences voicing Cruz Ramirez in Cars 3, the things she has learned from this show, and more.
In the first episode, you mention how you loved animation as a kid. Was there a particular animated film or cartoon that was a big part of your childhood?
I was really into cartoons and comics books a lot. To me, I loved cartoons so much that I would see them for the different kinds of animation. I loved the Disney fairy tales. I was actually thinking about The Little Mermaid today and how I remember as a kid when it came out thinking that the underwater scenes were gorgeous- to the point where they still stay with me right now. But aside from Disney properties, I used to see a lot of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons from back in the day. That animation style is so different. In a weird way, it looks like it’s frozen in time. It’s almost mid-century in a way because that was the time in which it existed. But then, of course, you have the Looney Tunes cartoons which I loved because they were funny in a way that maybe kids didn’t get, but adults did. Even now, I’m a big cartoon watcher. I watch Teen Titans Go!, I watch Gumball, I watch Rick & Morty, I just have fun with it. To me, the peak was Beavis and Butt-Head. They were cartoons, but they would rock out and they were just ridiculous. But you believed they were real! You wanted to be Beavis and Butt-Head!
What you are saying is very important because it proves that animation isn’t just for kids, despite that stigma.
That’s what I think is so annoying. I am part of the first generation that realized that we didn’t have to stop playing video games when we grew up and there is something to be said about that. I had to battle with a lot of people, like my parents and aunts and uncles that would say at a certain age, you just have to stop liking that stuff. And I would think: but why? Now, it’s so obvious that if you like something, you have more opportunities to work in that world as an adult. To me, animation is more for adults than it is for kids. Kids can see it and be entertained to a certain extent but, especially when it comes to Pixar, you see these stories and the themes that you get out of them speaks so much to you as an adult.
What was your experience of being cast as Cruz Ramirez for Cars 3?
I love telling this story, and I don’t tell it enough. I was just living my life and had no plans to be in a Pixar movie. I didn’t even think Pixar was real, really. People say it’s there, but is it really there? I remember my agent called me out of the blue and asked me “Hey, do you wanna go up to Pixar and take a tour?” So I’m thinking “Okay, sure!” And I remember it was on a Monday and my agent called me back and said “Can you go on Thursday?” And I thought “This Thursday? Okay!” I am not kidding when I say this: I thought this is something that Pixar did with everybody. Like, they just randomly pick people from Hollywood and say “Hey, do you want to take a tour of Pixar?” So I just thought, well I guess it’s my turn! It was very casual and no details were given. I go to Pixar and meet a couple of people and I have to sign a non-disclosure agreement to say that I’m not gonna talk about what I’m seeing. I thought, “Now it’s even cooler!” So they start giving me a tour of Pixar and I’m seeing these really cool offices in the building where a lot of the animators work out of. They have all created little worlds out of their offices so you will walk by and see an office that’s a cave! I remember thinking “This is amazing!” Finally, they took me into a room where they had all these Cars storyboards and sat me down. This is where I started thinking that this seemed weird. By the way, I still had no idea what I was doing there. So, they are telling me about these storyboards and start breaking down the story of Cars 3 to me. I remember after they had told me everything I said “Well, that’s cool. I wish you the best on that.” I mean, what were the chances that Pixar was asking me to do something, I was so clueless! They finally said “We would like you to audition for Cruz”. And I was like “What?” And then he said “Do you want to go into a booth and record some lines?” And I remember thinking “Oh I’m sorry, right now? I’m not prepared!” They gave me a couple of pages and tell me to go into the sound booth. I do the lines and I left stunned. I called my agent when I left and said “Hey, did you know that was an audition?” And they were like “Yes! What did you think it was?” Two days later, I got a call saying I had booked it.
Inside Pixar took you behind the scenes and showed you how the studio makes their films. Were there things you learned that surprised you about the process despite working for the studio previously?
100%. What I learned [on Cars 3] was how the script and story changes as you realize what doesn’t work, what is getting a reaction, etc. But also, my exposure to Pixar was very limited by what I was doing. So when it came to story writing, I saw the changes in Cars and what they were doing in that bubble. This documentary series allowed me to see more of the animation part of it. I think animation is very overwhelming to some people. To me, it’s a whole universe and a different language. What I learned was actually how many things exist in animation that you would have never thought of. It’s weird how the things that you take for granted in Pixar movies take a lot of time and effort to look like you should take them for granted. I was talking about texture recently and how the wood in Pixar movies looks like wood and you don’t even think about the wood not being real- because it just looks like wood! There are people that are so good at it that they just make wood look like wood, and that’s their job. It shows you how big production is and how many people have to work on it. We see the finished product and realize we are so unaware of the hundreds of people working on it.
This last December, Pixar announced that there is a new Cars series in the works. Will we be seeing our friend Cruz Ramirez in the show?
You know, they don’t tell me anything. I didn’t even know that this show was going to exist. I will say that if Cruz is a thing, I would be more than glad to do it. She should be part of it, I think it just makes the most sense but I don’t know, we’ll see. I think it is still so early in the way that the Pixar process works. But maybe I will get a call to take another tour of Pixar!
Many thanks to Cristela Alonzo for taking the time to talk with us about Inside Pixar: Foundations, which is now available to stream on Disney+.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.