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SNEAKS '06 | CARS

As talking car films go, it's authentic

January 15, 2006|SUSAN KING

IN the world of Pixar, toys face meaning-of-life dilemmas, monsters punch a time clock, fish learn parenting skills and superheroes retire. It seems only natural then that cars should be taught to appreciate the truly important things in life.

"Cars," the studio's latest animated film -- this time in 3D and the last to be released by Disney under its current contract -- explores what happens when a cocky rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) gets lost in an old desert town on Route 66 that is occupied only by vintage cars of the 1950s and '60s.

"The story is really about how the main character learns that the journey of life is the reward," says Pixar's John Lasseter, who wrote (with the late Joe Ranft) and directed the comedy.

"Cars," set for a June 9 release, marks the first Pixar film Lasseter has directed since 1999's "Toy Story 2." Over the last few years, he's been overseeing -- as executive producer -- Pixar's "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles."

"I love directing," said Lasseter. "I love getting in there and working with all the different departments and people on a personal, one-on-one daily basis."

Lasseter has been a car buff since he was a youngster. "I have motor oil running through my blood," he said. "My father was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership in Whittier, where I grew up ... all through the heyday of the Chevy muscle cars. I worked there before I began driving. Once I turned 16 and got my license, I became a delivery boy driving all over Los Angeles delivering parts to other Chevy dealers."

Because Lasseter wanted to respect car buffs and the sport of auto racing, he did a tremendous amount of research. "We traveled to Detroit and talked to designers of automobiles," he said. "I talked to restorers of old cars. We have been to factories and races and racing shops."

He even took race car driving classes. "All of this is called research, but it's a whole lot of fun for me. Being a film director for me is, like, choose wisely the subject matter of your film because if it's something you truly love, it is like playing the whole time."

Lasseter also bonded with veteran actor and race car driver Paul Newman, who supplies the voice of the town's mechanic and judge, Doc Hudson.

"We would talk cars constantly," recalled Lasseter. "He helped tremendously in making the racing very authentic. I was dedicated to making this film authentic even though the cars are alive. It's a car racing movie that people who live and work in racing will look at and go, 'They did their homework.' "

-- SUSAN KING

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