The Disney/Pixar feature "Cars" certainly isn't the first film about anthropomorphized automobiles. In the past, we've met Herbie ("The Love Bug"), talking rental cars in the 1972 Austrian film "Shirts Up, Knickers Down" (you don't wanna know) and more than a few vocal vehicles in educational shorts with titles like (aptly enough) "The Talking Car" (1969).
Then there are chatty TV cars, such as the reincarnated "My Mother, the Car" (1965), cartoons "Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch" and "Turbo Teen," and, need we mention, The Knight Industries Two-Thousand, a.k.a. KITT, from the anti-classic '80s show "Knight Rider."
Cars don't have to talk to convey character. There are hundreds of motion picture cars as memorable as (and often with more personality than) their human co-stars: Frank Bullitt's dark green 1968 Mustang GT; Barry Newman's Dodge Challenger in "Vanishing Point" (1971); the Daimler DB18 in "Fantômas" (1964); Tura Satana's Porsche 356 from "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1965); and pretty much every vehicle in "American Graffiti" (1973) to name just a few.
But what if some of those distinctive movie cars could talk? What if automobile voice technology, just now in its infancy, had been invented long ago?
For instance, what if George Bailey's poor, beat-up 1936 Oldsmobile in the 1946 classic "It's a Wonderful Life" had the ability to speak?
Abused by George (kicking its door in furious envy of Sam Wainwright's plush limo), belittled by George's son Peter, soiled by goats and finally, drunkenly driven into the oldest tree in Bedford Falls, the poor car bore the brunt of the Bailey family's misery.
"Hey! George! It's not my fault you never traveled the world! So you couldn't take a train or a plane somewhere exotic — what am I, chopped flivver? You coulda' split this one-horse town in me and driven to New York or L.A. or Mexico! But no! You gotta drive me into a friggin' tree and leave me for dead while you and that angel go cavorting around Pottersville, a town in which I didn't even exist! Richest man in town, my gas pedal!"
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"While 007 is preoccupied with driving, perhaps I could interest you in a vibrating ejector seat. Me? The name is Martin. Aston Martin."
What would a car sound like if it were being riddled with bullets, like Sonny Corleone's sedan in "The Godfather" (1973) or the getaway car in "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)?
"No! I'm an innocent accessory! I never asked to be a part of this family! Please, spare my tires at least! Ah-ooo-guh!" Followed, of course, by a true death rattle.
"Smokey and the Bandit" (1977) is enough of a cartoon that Bandit's Trans Am suddenly whoopin' it up as it made a physically impossible jump wouldn't have been that much of stretch. The classic Pontiac might follow Bandit's (Burt Reynolds) lead and pursue other comely cars, calling out over the CB:
"C'mon, good buddy, there's a fine pink MG Midget headin' west. Let's turn 'er 'round and give 'er a good emissions check!"
And what would be the last words of the Thunderbird in "Thelma and Louise" (1991)? Trapped by the police (and society), the titular heroines of Ridley Scott's feminist manifesto decide to drive off a cliff and into the Grand Canyon. But nobody asked the vintage T-Bird if he was up for the sacrifice.
"I don't wanna die! I'm only 25 years old!" Then again, the car might have been a female, in which case she might've been down with the cause, perhaps singing an altered verse to Walter Egan's "Blonde in the Blue T-Bird."
Imagine a Batcave confab among the various Batmobiles of the silver screen. The classic converted Lincoln Futura driven by Adam West in the 1966 TV spinoff would probably wax poetic about the loss of style these days and complain about Batman leaving potato chip crumbs on his floor. Meanwhile, the tanklike "Tumbler" from 2005's "Batman Begins," definitely overcompensating for something, would taunt the other Batmobiles about their inferior size. Similarly, the phallic, machine-gun-laden Batmobile from Tim Burton's films would probably just blather on and on about Catwoman's kiester. Or perhaps Robin's.
Would tattooed sleazebag Buck's Chevrolet Silverado (the "Pussy Wagon") in "Kill Bill Vol. 1" (2003) have been happy with its new owner, the Bride/Beatrix? Perhaps they would've bonded as the Bride (Uma Thurman) lay in the back seat for 13 hours willing her atrophied legs back into action.
"Y'know, [name bleeped] ... you seem much cooler than that slimebag who pimped me out. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship. Now let's go get some revenge!"
Being in an animated Pixar film, Bob Parr's abused Nash Metropolitan could have shouted out in pain as its super-powered owner crumpled, smashed and tossed it in the air, but it would've totally blown the realism of "The Incredibles" (2004). Stylish computer animation aside, Brad Bird's brilliant ode to family carries more emotional resonance than most live-action dramas; there's simply no room (or need) for talking cars.
Still, more vocal rides are headed for a theater near you. Soon you'll be able to see "Tales of the Rat Fink," a biography about hot-rod-culture icon Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, featuring animated autos voiced by Matt Groening, Ann-Margret, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Jay Leno, Tom Wolfe (!) and more.
And, yes, the rumors are true. As the '80s revival continues unabated, plans are under way for a big-screen version of "Knight Rider." We just hope that this time around, whomever voices KITT not only gets credited (the great William Daniels, the car's voice in the show, got no credit at all), but receives rightful position as second billing. Not behind whatever Hasselhoffian hunk scores the role of Michael Knight, but behind the real star: the car.
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