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‘Cars’ spins NASCAR tale
, Entertainment Writer
A fast-paced comedy adventure, “Cars” is an amazing high-octane blend of Pixar/Disney animation magic, NASCAR phenomena and heart-warming Route 66 nostalgia.
The blockbuster hit, a Pixar Animation Studios film presented by Walt Disney Pictures, opened nationwide, Friday, June 9, following a notable premiere, complete with the traditional red carpet and the not-so-traditional presence of four giant custom-built screens in Concord, N.C., the heart of NASCAR country.
At the premiere, hosted for over 30,000 fans at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, director John Lasseter pointed out that he personally considers “Cars” a love letter to the era of Route 66 and a time when people took road trips to enjoy the scenery and to spend quality time with each other.
Interestingly, H.A. Wheeler, the speedway’s president and general manager, has a small voice-over part in the film “Cars.”
Racing celebrity Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was among those from the film attending the premiere.
Acting legend and two-time Oscar winner Paul Newman (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Color of Money”) does the voice-over for the character of Doc Hudson (a 1951 Hudson Hornet) in “Cars.”
Among the other over 100 voice-over parts in the film are those done by Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen, a race car), Bonnie Hunt (Sally Carrera, a Porsche 911), Larry the Cable Guy (Mater, the tow truck), Cheech Marin (Ramone, the low-rider 1959 Impala), Tony Shalhoub (Luigi, a 1959 Fiat 500), Jenifer Lewis (Flo, a 1950s show car), Paul Dooley (Sarge, a military-minded Jeep), Michael Wallis (Sheriff, a 1945 Mercury Police Cruiser), George Carlin (resident hippie, Fillmore, a 1960 VW bus), Katherine Helmond (Lizzie), John Ratzenberger (Mack, a 1985 Mack Superliner), Michael Keaton (Chick Hicks, a ruthless racing competitor bent on winning the Dinoco sponsorship) and Richard Petty (The King, a 1970 Plymouth Superbird and a racing legend who has won more Piston Cups championship races than any other car in history).
Richard Petty is a seven-time NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship winner. His wife, Lynda, provides a cameo voice as The King’s car-mate.
Veteran Olympic and sports commentator Bob Costas voices the character of Bob Cutlass, the host at racing events in “Cars.”
Other well-known voices are those of Jay Leno (Jay Limo), Mario Andretti as himself, Darrell Waltrip (who holds the record for five wins at the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600) and Michael Schumacher, the ace German Formula I racing legend.
“Cars” coincides with the celebration of Pixar’s 20th anniversary and the company’s recent acquisition by Disney.
Director John Lasseter, who helms “Cars,” most recently directed “Toy Story 2” in 1999. The Academy Award–winning director (“Toy Story”) also directed “A Bug’s Life.” He served as executive producer for “Monsters, Inc,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.”
Co-director of “Cars” was the late Joe Ranft, who passed away last August.
The original story line for “Cars” was created by John Lasseter, Joe Ranft and Jorgen Klubien.
Bonnie Hunt (voice of Sally) tells studio press, “When they write these movies at Pixar, they start with the heart of the character first.”
Certainly an important part of the story is Route 66 itself. Michael Wallis (The Sheriff in “Cars”) co-authored with his wife, Susanne Fitzgerald Wallis, the book, “The Art of Cars.” They have explored Route 66 for many years. Wallis states, “Route 66 is a mirror held up to the nation. It reflects what’s going on in the nation at any given time. For most people, this highway is the most famous in the world, and it represents the great American road trip.”
In the late 1960s we drove to southern California by way of Route 66. “Cars” triggers memories of that Route 66 road trip.
In the movie “Cars” Lightning McQueen, a hotshot rookie race car, discovers that life is about the journey, not the finish line, when he finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. Here the town’s characters help him realize there are more important things than trophies, fame and sponsorship. McQueen is enroute to the big Piston Cup Championship in California.
“Cars “ is the first Pixar film to use “ray tracing,” a technique which allows the “Cars” stars to credibly reflect their environments. The average time to render a single frame of film for “Cars” was 17 hours with a network of 3,000 computers and state-of-the-art processors.
We are reminded by Disney publicists that a major inspiration for the filmmakers of “Cars” was the classic 1952 Disney short, “Susie the Little Blue Coupe.” A key animator in that film is the legendary Ollie Johnston, who now at age 92, is the last surviving member of Walt Disney’s original team affectionately known as “the nine old men.”
A few years ago the leading PR firm in Minneapolis, Nemer, Fieger and Associates, Inc., invited us to join a panel of area film critics to interview Ollie Johnston by way of special hookup and a giant screen at 3-M in Minneapolis, connecting us in Minneapolis to Johnston at the Disney Studio in Burbank, Calif. We were each invited to ask two questions. That interview has become, for each of us, a treasured Disney memory.
“Cars,” rated G and now showing in area theaters, is a must-see for NASCAR fans as well as for all who enjoy inspiring family film fare. Taking in over $62 million opening weekend, “Cars,” not surprisingly, is number one nationwide, as predicated earlier in a lobby visit by our good friend Bob Toogood, theater entrepreneur.
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