Hard to believe, long before Walt Disney Studios sold its creative soul at the alter of commercialization with insipid tween-pop music, $100-a-seat Broadway shows and shitty direct-to-DVD 'sequels' to its greatest animated hits, a one-of-a-kind oddity managed to sneak out. A prime example of Disney's artists running amok is this tripped-out ode to America's infatuation with the automobile, which first appeared in theatres in the Fall of 1970 (accompanying features such as SON OF FLUBBER and THE ARISTOCATS), and then turned up on the small-screen as an episode of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY on April 9, 1972... In the hands of two of Disney's top talents -- director Ward Kimball was one of the original "Nine Old Men," who worked on classics such as PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA and SNOW WHITE; writer Ted Berman helped animate flicks like PETER PAN, and later co-directed THE BLACK CAULDRON -- this throwaway project was transformed into pop-culture art that mixes live-action, animated snippets, experimental techniques, and whirlwind pacing. Narrated by 19-year-old Disney-contract-player Kurt Russell (in between his starring gigs in THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE and THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES), it follows average Los Angeles teenager "Rex Carr" (get it?) who admits he was "hooked on cars" and "turned on by wheels" from birth. He also shows us how the love of autos is an inherent part of childhood -- from pre-school kids playing with toy cars, to slot cars, soap box races, go-karts, mini-bikes, all the way to our kid's first visit to the DMV (with Kurt chiming in, "Man, it's a pretty freaky place," to demonstrate that his character is really 'with it'). After grumbling about having to wait in line (gosh, three whole people are ahead of him), dealing with grumpy grown-ups and battling nerves during his driver's test, his vehicular success ultimately leads to the program's title... With its intricate cutting and fast-paced camerawork, this free-wheeling enterprise often feels like some '60s avant-garde short: there's a stop-motion "easy to assemble" model-car sequence; a convertible's groovy ride through a car wash is shot like a scene from THE TRIP; two animated racing stripes compete to cover a car; and talking used-autos look like precursors to Pixar's CARS. Plus there's a high-school Driver's-Ed simulator that's like nothing I've ever seen -- with a student behind the wheel of a fake dashboard and responding to a 16mm film, to see how he'd deal with passing Hell's Angels, a bank robbery or a roadside teeny-bikini. There's also footage of dune buggies, dragsters, demolition derbies, a custom car "fashion show" with leggy models and real-life Hot Wheels, plus an outlandish car-decorating contest held at Disneyland. It's great fun, even if you aren't a car enthusiast.
© 2009 by Steven Puchalski.