On this day in 2006, the animated feature film “Cars,” produced by Pixar Animation Studios, roars into theaters across the United States.
For “Cars,” which won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Pixar’s animators created an alternate America inhabited by vehicles instead of humans. The film’s hero is Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), a Corvette-like race car enjoying a sensational debut on the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) circuit. Arrogant and foolish, with talent to burn, McQueen thinks of himself as a one-man show. After he refuses a tire change during the prestigious Piston Cup race, McQueen blows a huge lead, setting up a three-way tie-breaking race with The King, a longtime champion, and Chick Hicks, an intimidating competitor with a chip on his shoulder. On the way to the race site in California, however, McQueen goes off course (and off the interstate) and ends up in Radiator Springs, a forgotten town on the now-defunct Route 66.
At first desperate to escape, McQueen learns to appreciate Radiator Springs, especially after finding a best friend (the rusting tow-truck Mater, as in Tow-Mater), a love interest (Sally Carrera, a fetching Porsche) and a mentor (it turns out the town’s gruff doctor-mechanic, Doc Hudson, is actually the Hudson Hornet, a real-life NASCAR legend). Among the other memorable inhabitants of Radiator Springs are an aging hippie VW van; a military Jeep named Sarge; Flo, a glamorous show car and proprietress of the V-8 Café (a gas station); Ramon, a Chevy Impala low rider; and Guido, a Fiat who owns a tire shop and is obsessed with Ferraris.
As director John Lasseter told The New York Times, he was inspired to make “Cars” by a cross-country road trip he took with his wife and five sons, as well as by a general love of automobiles. While researching the movie, the team of animators traveled along the historic Route 66, once the iconic route to the American West and now bypassed by interstate highways. (The “Mother Road” was decertified in 1985 and has been reborn as a tourist attraction.) In addition to the painstaking depictions of both classic and modern cars and their distinctive personalities, “Cars” features the voices of some of the leading figures in auto racing, beginning with the late Paul Newman, the legendary actor-turned-race car driver, as Doc Hudson. Racing legends Mario Andretti (as himself), Richard Petty (as The King) and Michael Schumacher (as a Ferrari) can also be heard, along with sports announcers Darrell Waltrip and Bob Costas.