This is part one in our coverage of a very special press event for the new film Cars 3 out June 16, 2017.
We visited Pixar Studios on March 28.
A couple of the journalists wore thematically appropriate attire: see 1 (decades?) old Pixar T-shirt and 1 skin-tight men’s athletic Incredibles top that doesn’t appear to have been ever used for anything athletic. I’m watching this eclectic group of writerly fangirls and boys walk around in this open-air cathedral of a lobby that is a lobby in the same way Windsor Castle is a house. There’s an entire New York borough’s worth of exposed brick along the back wall, segmented into halves by a dark steel and cable balcony running around the interior of this, the Steve Jobs building. To the right of the entrance is a lengthy glass case containing dozens of Academy Awards; through it, I see a teeny white ball flying back and forth past Oscar and his clones as two men play ping pong on their dinner break. All the employees are in jeans or chinos and the women all have their hair tied up in that way that’s both casual and chic and I just saw one guy go by on a razor scooter. The sheer amount of space available – for just moving through or staring at – is daunting. There are life size figurines of the Incredibles, and life-sized Lego constructions of Woody and Buzz. Just outside the front door is a massive sculpture of Pixar’s famous lamp and ball, and somehow their imposing size does nothing to mitigate their lovability. There are a handful of large, almost expressionistic murals depicting Lightning McQueen and associates from far enough away and with enough aesthetic choice as to make them look like odd, new-age promotional photos for real race cars. Most of this lobby seems dedicated to the cafeteria and dining room stationed on one side, although the space they take up feels negligible within the canopy of open air.
Between all the smiles and all the ping-pong, I almost feel like I’m encroaching on someone’s home. It’s clear that, if you work here, they never want you to leave, or at least want you to want to leave. It’s a tempting offer too; from the way the man on the second floor is sprawled out in front of a window overlooking the lobby – he’s nearly parallel to the floor of the conference room –the office chairs seem hospitable.
Either the people who work here are good at being around press or we must be infuriating, because there are several shuttles’ worth of us, and we’re mostly buzzing around the sprawling floor in a very tourist-y way – looking up, gaping at the scale of the ceiling and its skylights, smelling, with wonder, a floor that gets waxed enough to be entirely odorless. We are very specifically only allowed to take photos on the ground floor, and they’re going to take our cell phones away before we walk into the theater.
There is a man whose sole job seems to be to vacuum. He does not mop, he does not sweep. He doesn’t take out the trash. He just vacuums.
We visited Sonoma Raceway on March 29.
The Sonoma Raceway is a 2.42 mile-length of asphalt running through the open air of California wine country. Said country is terribly green, it seems, for a state of drought, but according to a local the liveliness is standard. Behind the track’s final U-turn, endlessly beyond the tiny pit crew working on a yellowjacket Porsche, the valley of grapes stretches out until it reaches the haze resting between mountains. The nearly 2 1/2 miles of pavement itself is a veritable beast. It has enough turn-offs and alternate routes running through its system to pump cars through a multitude of different courses, and the overall effect is like a streamlined circulatory system. The asphalt looks surprisingly at home in the countryside. It glides along the hill with its own kind of grace, a groove in the landscape left by some event, long ago.
Our day at Sonoma, where the bulk of press/ Pixar interaction will be taking place, consists of 4 separate press presentations and a collection of side events – “activities” would be the more appropriate word, I guess – the most exciting of which is the hot laps we’ll be doing in the stock cars just before lunch. I’ve always been a fan of going fast, but some of my peers seem decidedly unenthused by the idea of being driven around in a racecar. Some of them start to go get lunch before we’ve gone down to the track, and are immediately encouraged by the staff to hold off until afterwards.
So there we are, riding in the passenger seat of a performance-built Toyota Camry at 130mph, nearly sandwiched between a solid wall of concrete and the left side of another car. The experience is thrilling, but not altogether unfamiliar. It fuels the same adrenaline gland that being a teenager and driving a little too fast on the way home from school does, except for a difference of over 70 miles per hour and another vehicle – with another autonomous, fallible human being driving it – milliseconds away from being able to kill you both. There isn’t a moment of unreleased levity or comforting thrill; it’s all anxiety, of both a joyous and an understandably terrifying kind (some of the GoPro footage from the press cars must be priceless). It is, in other words, quite unlike seeing a Pixar film. The mental acuity necessary to do it for two hours, with 40 other people on the track, all of them also leaping over pitches and grinding rubber into your nostrils and trying to do it better than you, must be, I realized quickly, immense. It’s exhausting, like a high-stakes argument with a loved one is, in that it activates every inch of your body. I have given up my doubts about NASCAR being a “sport” in the technical sense. To do anything at this level of activation for any sustained period is, unquestionably, a sport.
Cars 3 hits theaters June 16.