MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

Disney takes Pixar’s Cars out for a spin at ShoWest

LAS VEGAS — Few potential summer blockbusters will arrive with as much baggage in its trunk as “Cars,” which will be the first animated feature released under the newly conjoined banner of Disney and Pixar. Wall Street analysts will put the picture under the same intense scrutiny as that employed by film critics approaching any new movie by Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg. All of “Cars” nits will be picked, and critics will be asked by their editors to add foolish economic forecasts to their reviews.
Tuesday night, a mere 72 hours after the wrap party, writer-director John Lasseter introduced “Cars” to two S.R.O. crowds of exhibitors at ShoWest. As the son of an art teacher and purveyor of automotive products, he described the project as a labor of love. His obsession with cars from the grand era of fins, chrome and horsepower is palpable.
The story centers on Lightning McQueen, a cocky rookie in a NASCAR-like racing circuit – all of the characters are anthropomorphic automobiles – who, on his way to a match race in California, is sidetracked to a dusty little town on Route 66 that hasn’t recovered from the completion of the Interstate system. Finding himself among a community of vintage cars, he is forced to listen to, make friends with and learn from common folk. Naturally, Lightning falls for a sexy sports car, but not before he’s learned a few lessons in humility.
Intended to go out with a “G” rating, “Cars” must appeal to the full audience spectrum if it’s going to meet the expectations of Wall Street and Hollywood wags. While the story is consistently amusing and the animation is impeccable — often breathtaking in its clarity of detail — it feels long at nearly two hours. Half-way through, Lasseter applies the brakes on the fast-paced action long enough to elaborate on the story’s romantic and redemptive aspects. Whether kids will sit still during these interludes is a question that test audiences will be asked many times in the coming months.
The response from exhibitors was very positive, however, and may signal an opportunity for cross-demographic success. Lasseter wisely chose to populate the film with specimens from 100 years of automotive history, especially mid-20th Century models with distinct personalities built into their designs. Grandparents will enjoy sharing their memories of favorite cars with the young ’uns, most of whom have never seen a car that didn’t look exactly like 30 others just down the street.
Some of these same cars – borrowed from the collection at the Imperial Palace – were on display at the lavish after-party. Disney even convinced Texas Instruments to change the color scheme of the DLP HDTV racer it sponsors, to match that of Lightning McQueen for one major NASCAR contest. It’s appropriate, as “Cars” is a movie that should only be experienced on a large screen in an auditorium equipped with a digital projector.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon