'Lightning McQueen's love of Doc Hudson is my love of Paul Newman,' says John Lasseter
Credit: Disney/Pixar

Once a legend, always a legend — that’s why it’s both jubilant and jarring to hear the voice of Paul Newman, who died in 2008 from lung cancer, once again as wizened retired racer Doc Hudson in Cars 3.

Playing the former mentor of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) in the first Cars was Newman’s last major role before he died. And although the decision was made for Doc not to appear in 2011’s Cars 2, Disney and Pixar animation story chief John Lasseter said the choice to bring Doc — and Newman — back for Cars 3 was simply essential to the film’s story.

Cars 3 finds an aging Lightning, written off by his peers following a devastating crash, reconsidering the advice of his retired teacher Doc, who himself experienced that same contention in his career. Although Doc has passed away in the story, Lightning hears the Fabulous Hudson Hornet’s voice in flashbacks and visions, which required some old dialogue from Newman — and some, completely new vocalizations.

“As we were developing Cars 3, we loved the idea of McQueen in this stage in his career as a veteran of the sport, seeing all these young racecars coming in and initially fearing them as competition, then eventually recognizing the value both to the young racer but also to yourself in mentoring,” says Lasseter. “So in telling that story, therefore we had to say Doc Hudson would be an important part of this.”

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As the director of the first Cars film, it was Lasseter who spent quality time with Newman in the recording booth, getting to know the acting icon — and passionate racer. “In a way, he mentored me in racing because car racing was his true life’s passion, and I made sure that whenever he came into the recording booth, we were recording everything,” the director recalls. “In between takes, he would tell me stories about great races, and you could hear the passion in his voice. So as we started Cars 3, we went back to every recording we did on Cars 1 and catalogued and listened to it all, and ended up with a lot of material that we could use. Lines that were cut from the original film and never used, as well as some of those pieces from in between takes.

Since Newman was such an avid lover of the first film, the actor’s family was, as Lasseter puts it, “thrilled” to approve the posthumous move: “We wanted to approach it very respectfully. It was out of the love for Paul Newman that I had. In a weird way, I really relate to McQueen. It’s almost like Lightning McQueen’s love of Doc Hudson is my love of Paul Newman. It’s from that same place of love and respect.”

Cars 3
  • Movie
  • 109 minutes