By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 26, 2013 at 1:34PM
While the "Cars" franchise is seen by film fans as a blight on the mostly peerless Pixar record, a strictly-for-kids giggle-fest that contains little of the emotional nuance or visual invention that defines the studio's best work, it still, for better or worse, remains a perennial cash cow. Between the two feature films, a handful of delightful shorts, the Carsland section of the Disney California Adventure theme park (which will soon be cloned for Florida's Disney's Hollywood Studios), an untold number of toys, several videogames and this summer's abhorrent-looking spin-off "Planes" (which isn't explicitly a Pixar product but was cheekily introduced in a "Cars" short on the "Cars 2" DVD), the "Cars" franchise generates billions of dollars annually for the Walt Disney company. So like it or not, "Cars" shit is gonna be around for a while. The latest example is three micro-sized short films. Plus, we have an intriguing rumor about a creepy Johnny Depp robot being installed in a beloved Disney attraction.
First, the three short films are bite-sized blasts, all directed by Jeremy Lasky, executive produced by John Lasseter and animated by the recently-opened Pixar Canadian campus. Instead of merely being "Cars" Toons, as the earlier shorts have been identified, this is part of a series called "Tales from Radiator Springs," which, for the more cynically minded, all happen to be more than a little synergistically poised to promote aspects of the Cars universe that people (people just like you!) can now visit while vacationing at Disney California Adventure theme park. Imagine that.
Anyway, the first (and arguably best) short, "Hiccups," has cocky racecar Lightning McQueen (Keith Ferguson filling in for Owen Wilson) coming down with the hiccups. All of the residents of Radiator Springs try their own methods to relieve him of his problem, to hilariously misguided effect. The second, "Bugged," is a very sweet short about the big fire engine Red being plagued by small bugs (that look like VW Bugs, of course). It's cute and sweet and if you're an animation super-nerd, you'll be agog at the wonderful physics generators used on the puddle one of the bugs gets stuck in. The third short, "Spinning," makes us think that this really is a bid for Carsland visitors, since it takes place at Luigi's tire shop -- home to, in the park, a groaningly lame ride that is in desperate need of attention. It's kind of cute, but far more nakedly tie-in-ish than the others, something that makes it way less fun. You'll have to click on the links to watch 'em because corporate synergy doesn't apparently include embeddable videos.
Speaking of the Disney parks, Disney historian Jim Hill indicates, in a recent podcast, that the company are in the early stages of planning to install new audio-anamatronic figures of Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, from this summer's "The Lone Ranger," into a revamped version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a thrill ride located in Frontierland. For those of you keeping score at home, this would be the second eerily lifelike Johnny Depp robot to inhabit the Disney parks after, in 2006, a lifelike Captain Jack Sparrow audio-anamatronic figure was added to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (a kind of theme-park version of the snake that eats its own tail).
Of course, as Jim Hill notes, the 'Lone Ranger' modifications are dependent on whether or not the movie is the blockbuster Disney higher-ups believe it can be. If the movie bombs, then the ride will remain unmolested, if it's a smash then all of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroads worldwide (including parks in Paris and Tokyo) will be receiving Tonto and Lone Ranger upgrades. We'll find out when "The Lone Ranger" opens on July 3rd.