A talented young race car learns what is important in life when he gets stuck in a small town in the new feature from Pixar, the animation studio with a history of family hits including Toy Story, Monsters, Incorporated and Finding Nemo. Alan Silverman spoke with director John Lasseter and his star-studded voice cast for this look at Cars, a film in which all the characters are Cars.
Lightning McQueen is brash and cocky to the point of being reckless; but this impetuous youngster is the newest star on the 'Piston Cup' racing circuit:
Lightning ignores the advice of veteran racers who warn him that he cannot really succeed without teamwork and loyalty; but it takes getting lost for the rookie to learn that lesson, in a dusty town on old Route 66, the highway that ran through the heart of the American west before it was bypassed by high-speed super-highways.
The town, its motorized inhabitants and scenic surroundings all come alive through vividly realistic computer animation, far more detailed than even Pixar's previous hit films:
"This is by far the most complex movie Pixar has ever done. We really brought the computers to their knees rendering this movie," said John Lasseter, creative head of Pixar. He returned to directing with Cars for the first time since the Toy Story movies.
"We did research by traveling down Route 66 and when I went to these old towns a picture said 1,000 words," he added. "You could tell that they were once vibrant but had been bypassed long ago and no one comes here anymore by the rusty signs, the faded paint, the cracks in the sidewalk, the grass growing up [and] the dust everywhere. All that stuff just tells you the story right there."
But Lasseter says 'all that stuff' was a major challenge, even for a team that has led the way in computer animation innovation:
"The computers don't give you anything for free," he noted. "You can't go on location with a computer and just film something. You have to create it yourself; but all that detail adds up. Every time you add a pebble or grass blade or dust it is adding up to make the complexity of the scene in the final rendering."
That attention to detail attracted Oscar-winning actor and veteran race driver Paul Newman to provide the voice of Radiator Springs' crusty old judge, Doc Hudson a 1951 Hudson Hornet.
"I did it mostly because I knew it would be good, because Lasseter was working on it at Pixar. That would be the first consideration. That it was about racing was just a bonus," said Mr. Newman.
"These are good folk around here who care about one another," he added. "When is the last time you cared about something besides yourself, hot rod?"
The residents of Radiator Springs include trusty old tow truck Mater, voiced in the English version by comic actor Dan Whitney, better known as his 'redneck' TV character 'Larry The Cable Guy:'
"Mater is a good friend, a faithful friend," said Mr. Whitney. "Mater is a small town guy. What Mater finds interesting, other people might find boring and I put myself in the same category. I'm a small town guy. I try to help people out along the way. I was taught that way and in many ways, Mater and I are exactly alike."
There's also Sally Carrera, a sexy little Porsche sports car, voiced by Bonnie Hunt:
"What's the first thing that you fall in love with when you're a kid? Animation," said Ms. Hunt. "You're mesmerized by it, you fall in love with the characters (and) then when you grow up and you're in this business and you get to be the voice and it all comes to life ... it's unbelievable. I am so thrilled."
At the heart of Cars is a simple message: in life, the journey is its own reward ... something John Lasseter says he learned only a few years ago on a family road trip with his wife and five sons:
"Everybody thought we were going to be at each other's throats," he said. "The opposite thing happened; we got so close as a family. It was so special and I came back and said 'I want this movie to be about what I just learned: that the journey in life is a reward."
Cars also features Owen Wilson as the voice of Lightning McQueen; and several real life race drivers do characters, including Richard Petty and Darrell Walltrip.