The drive-in is the perfect place to see this! I had a blast. Some critics are saying that the old Pixar magic wasn’t quite there, but I don’t agree. People are already puzzling about why it didn’t earn as much the first weekend as previous Pixar releases, and I’m puzzled, too. Somebody theorized that kids (and their parents?) prefer warm, fuzzy, Ice Age or Over the Hedge or Madagascar talking animals to hard, shiny autos. May be, but for myself, I’m getting pretty tired of wisecracking animals, and I see there are at least 6 more in the pipeline just this year, with godnose how many over the horizon. This one was visually stunning, like Robots, but it had ten times the heart and a much better story. It just gets better and better. Water, smoke, mist, reflections … they’ve got all that down pat now, and still they find ways to improve on it.
And the casting was fun. Bob Costas voiced Bob Cutlass. Jay Leno was Jay Limo. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, NPR’s Click and Clack, the Tappett Brothers, were there as Rusty and Dusty. Then there were real NASCAR great in bit parts: Lynda and Richard “The King” Petty, sporting his Number 43, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mario Andretti. And Larry the Cable Guy was the comic star, as a tow truck named Mater. As in “Tow” Mater, get it?
But I have to say I had a lot more personal connection with this story than previous animations. I’m not a NASCAR person—I don’t see a whole lot of point in stomping on the gas pedal and turning left for 200 laps in the world’s fastest billboards—but the animators have it all nailed here, right down to the RVs in the infield. However, there were two themes in the film that did attract me: the Hudson automobile, and Route 66 in the ’50s.
My family owned three Hudsons in the ’50s, and I’d gladly trade my 2001 Dodge for any one of them in a split second. I drove one from Texas to the New York World’s Fair and back when I was 17, without a bit of trouble. They were fat and funny-looking but full of surprises. For one thing, their revolutionary unibody “step-down” construction made them not only safer, but much more stable than other cars of the day. They hugged the road like a Formula One racer; you could power those suckers through a turn that a Ford wouldn’t even think about. They were light, and had a monster 6-cylinder engine. Many’s the time some asshole in a new Chevy would pull up beside me at a red light and contemptuously rev his engine … only to gape as my taillights dwindled before his eyes and he realized this fat pig, this bulgemobile with the faded paint was … shutting him down! Hudsons owned the NASCAR tracks in the early days, ’51, ’52, and ’53. They won more races than any car before or since. All of this is in the movie, and I believe it was a big reason Paul Newman, that old racer, agreed to play the part of “Doc” Hudson. Paul knows his cars, and he knows Hudson was one of the greats. So did Steve McQueen, who owned a dozen of them, one of which we saw in the process of restoration in Pismo Beach.
Then there’s the town of Radiator Springs, out in the Arizona desert. It was bypassed by I-40 and nobody goes there anymore. The inhabitants are relics of the glory days, when people going cross-country took the time to follow the road where it led, rather than making the road itself the destination. It is full of neon signs and decrepit buildings that we love and Lee loves to photograph. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey … those were the days! There was no Starbucks, you had to try the local coffee. (And sure, sometimes it sucked, but so what?) No Mickey D, no Holiday Inn, no Wal-Mart sucking the life out of a million mom-and-pops, no soulless strip malls. Every town was different. What a concept! I’m sure that many of you have no idea of what it used to be like, and that’s very sad.
But the good news is … Route 66 is still there! Parts of it, anyway. In the countryside it’s hit and miss, because sometimes the Interstate followed the old route, more or less, but often it just cut off great loops of the Mother Road, and many of them are still passable. In some towns—and Los Angeles is one—there are markers showing you where “Historic Route 66” was. And guess what? We drove on about 2 miles of it on our way to the Vineland Drive-in! We didn’t drive on one foot of freeway to get to the City of Industry.
Okay, we took the freeway home, but that’s different. That time of night you can’t see much, the freeway zips right along … and they don’t call it the City of Industry for nothing. There’s not much of interest except a nice Serbian church and the drive-in itself.