'Cars' Journeys to DVD


If you ever plan to motor west, "Cars" director John Lasseter wholeheartedly recommends taking Route 66.

With Pixar's latest film speeding to DVD on Nov. 7th, the filmmaker reflects on the fateful journey that inspired the film and offers two pieces of advice for future road-trippers: pack the book "Route 66: The Mother Road" by Michael Wallis -- who also played the voice of Sheriff in the film -- and keep an open mind.

"[Michael] says, 'You're going to meet a lot of people. Some people you're not necessarily going to agree with, but I tell you it's going to change the way you look at everything,'" Lasseter tells Zap2it.com. "And it's true. It's the heartland of America. You see the land change, you see cuisine changes, climate, attitudes, everything. I think everyone should do it. It's America before the interstates, before the Internet, before TV, before the homogenization of America."

Several years ago, Lasseter took that trip as research for making "Cars" and discovered a richness that's revealed in the DVD's "Inspiration for Cars" bonus feature.

"So much of the movie -- the stories, the characters, the place -- came from the journeys we took on Route 66 and then the whole NASCAR world -- going to the races and meeting all these people," he explains. "And it's all in the movie. So that's what we decided for this DVD: Instead of doing a 'making of the movie,' we wanted to focus on the research and the inspiration."

Lasseter can also thank his wife for sparking the idea for the story, about the racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) who is sidetracked on his way to fame and fortune when he meets the good folks in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs. In the late '90s, Lasseter had just finished directing the three Pixar classics "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2" when his wife pointed out that he needed to find time to pay attention to the four of his five sons who were born during those busy years.

"They grow up really fast, and you will miss it if you don't focus on it and be aware of that," says Lasseter. "So this movie kind of became about that: Someone learns the journey in life is the reward. And it's not that life in the fast lane is bad, it just needs to be in balance. If you don't have friends and you don't have family for the sake of your career, when you have a success, you have no one to share it with."

So after taking a break from directing to parent and executive produce other Pixar projects, Lasseter returned several years later to helm his most personal project to date. Not only is "Cars" a reflection of one of the life lessons he learned, but both where he grew up and his father's career revolved around cars.

"My dad worked for a Chevy dealership, so I had to have a Chevy in [the movie]," he says. "When we were kids, you were either a Ford family or a Chevy family or a Dodge family or something like that. We were a Chevy family, so my favorite Chevy was a '59 Impala, which [the character] Ramone is. I also grew up in Southern California in Whittier, and there were a lot of low riders. Whittier Blvd. was one of the top cruising streets in Southern California."

One of Lasseter's experiences on Route 66 gets a fun twist in "Mater and the Ghostlight," an original short made especially for the DVD. The rusty tow truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) enjoys playing scary pranks on his friends, but has the tables turned when he learns about the legend of the ghostlight.

"There we were [in Kansas] at Eisler Bros. getting hand-crafted sandwiches as was told," Lasseter recalls. "It's this wonderful place, and folks part of the Route 66 Historical Society of Kansas were there and were weaving a story of this ghostlight, this orb of glowing light that people have seen that comes right into cars. There's all these theories to what it is.

"Then flash forward as we start to think about what we could do [for a short on the DVD]. We loved Mater. We wanted to do something kind of featuring him. To me it's like friends of ours. You want to do more things with them because you know them, like you're family members. So we had the idea of, 'Let's tell the story of the ghostlight and have fun with it and let Mater get really, really, really scared in a goofy way.'"

The DVD also includes four deleted scenes, the film's extended epilogue and the Oscar-nominated short "One Man Band."

As Lasseter's "Cars" experience comes to a close with the DVD's release, he's sad to leave that world behind, a world in which he'd fit right in with the colorful characters born into automotive bodies.

"The car doesn't exist, but I would probably be a car that would have a minimum of 500 horsepower and handle like a sports car," he says. "But I would have at least seven seatbelts in it, so like a really hot minivan or something like that. And generally, I'd have a really great paint job, something tasteful, but fun and a little bit loud like the shirts [I wear]. Maybe some flames, some ghost flames, definitely some old-school pinstriping on it."

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