John Lasseter grew up in Southern California, where driving is people's passion and second career, and a car their church and fortress. So if you ask Lasseter about car love, you get an impromptu prose poem. "Car love," he says, "is the sound of a throaty V-8 rumbling and revving, the acceleration throwing you back in the seat--especially when you get on a beautiful, winding road and the light's dappling through the trees. For me, it's a combination of enjoying the beauty of cars, classic or cool modern ones, and also the actual driving: getting out on the open road, whether it's a family road trip or driving by myself on a nice windy road and enjoying the ride."
Lasseter, 49, is also the Dale Earnhardt of computer animators, the first name in a mammothly successful form of popular art he pretty much created, beginning with his short Luxo Jr. in 1986. From the start, he's been the soul of Pixar Animation: he directed its first three hits (Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2) and executive-produced its next three (Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles). Early this year, when Disney bought Pixar--basically paying about $7 billion for Lasseter's brain--he became boss of the grand old animation studio as well as the most revered modern one. His job: get both groups to make great movies.
They couldn't have a model that's smarter, snazzier or more moving, kinetically and emotionally, than Lasseter's Cars, which opens June 9. "I love having inanimate objects come to life," he says, ever the boy who can't stop tinkering and dreaming. All the characters are cars, but they're engagingly human. The lands they inhabit are richly detailed (thanks to years of research by Lasseter, co-director Joe Ranft and their team) and worlds apart: the NASCAR circuit, where autos and egos collide at 180 m.p.h., and a 1950s-ish town, keeping a sense of community far from the superhighway rat race.