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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #67
September 24, 2008

Life is a Highway

Cars + Automotive Museum

Cars is one of those great family films that lures everyone from Grandpa to toddler with its old-fashioned values, cool car stars, hilarity and history. Our kids loved Lightning McQueen, the red-hot rookie race car with a big ego, who pulls off the fast lane and learns that sometimes you have to slow down in order to get where you need to be in life. On his way to the most important race of his life, the Piston Cup, Lightning gets lost and rips up the main road in Radiator Springs, a forgotten town on Route 66. Trapped in the small town while he fixes the road, Lightning falls for a beautiful Porsche, makes a new friend, and unearths a secret about the town's elder statescar, Doc Hudson. In doing so, he learns about the value of friendship, the importance of keeping a promise, and what it means to be a winner. The movie's fabulous soundtrack and goofy humor gave the kids all the mileage they needed for dancing and laughing in their seats.

Visiting a Car Museum with grandparents and kids in tow is a great way to bring the past alive and two generations together. Our kids have always loved the idea that a car could even be in a museum, and the shiny surfaces to be found in abundance will please even the youngest child. Our local museum has extensive collections dating back to the '20s, making it fun to track the evolution of the automobile. Kids who have grown up with car seats get their wheels blown off when they first see a rumble seat -- and when they heard how long it took their grandparents to travel from one city to another (in the "olden days"). Older kids start to got a sense of how automobiles and freeways changed lives, and our country. Our son, who is obsessed with contemporary high-end sports cars, loved seeing the glamour cars of the past -- while his grandpa whistled in amazement to hear how these cars have held their value over time. Just two boys lookin' at cars... some things never change.

Film Title: Cars
Directed By: John Lasseter and Joe Ranft
2006, Rated G, 116 min.

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why It's Worth It: From the genius of John Lassiter, who directed Toy Story and A Bug's Life, this film serves up great fun while exposing kids to state-of-the-art animation.
  • Red Flags: When Lightning has a crush on Sally the Porsche, sparks fly along with some mature innuendos that fortunately, flew right over our kids' radar screens. There is one scary scene where a a mean combine chases Lightning through a field.
  • Split the Movie into Two Viewings: Cars has a running time of nearly two hours, so we recommend splitting it into two sessions so young racers can make it to the finish line.
  • That Voice Sounds Familiar: They sure do! Owen Wilson is Lightning, Paul Newman is Doc Hudson, Bonnie Hunt is Sally Carrera, George Carlin is Fillmore and Cheech Marin is Ramone.
  • Older Kids Should Watch Back To The Future: For older car enthusiasts in your family, screen Back to the Future (1985, PG, 117 mins). Michael J. Fox stars as Mary McFly, a boy who travels back in time to make sure his parents fall in love. His ride is a tricked-out DeLorean. This film is perfect fodder for a trip down memory lande, and filling your kids in on how and when their parents met. Tweens and Up.

Our Tips for Taking with your Kids about the Film:

  • Character Savvy:  Ask your kids whether the cars seemed like real people.  Point out how the cars are personified by bothe their look (wind shields have eyes and grilles look like mouths) and their emotional depth (older cars have different values than younger cars).
  • Location Savvy:  Much of the film is set along the old Highway 66, the historic road that in 1938 became the first paved highway in the US.  Route 66 extends from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA, passing through Kansas, Texas, and Arizona, among other states.


Visit A Car Museum or Auto Show


Time Allotment: 2 Hours

Age Recommendation: 3 and up



Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Extending this Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: Little kids can't make it through a whole, extensive collection (if that is what you have in your town). So, try to pick a specific exhibit, or era, to focus their attention. If you can find specific cars that match the film's car-stars, all the better. Most collections have some type of online roster, or if you call ahead, a museum docent should be able to assist you.
  • Autumn Antique Car Shows: Before winter sets in, lots of towns have outdoor antique car shows and parades, often associated with pumpkin and apple festivals. This is a great way to admire "rides" of yesteryear and take advantage of a nice fall day. Check your local calendar sections or call your local Auto Club for listings!
  • Make your own Pinewood Derby: Our kids loved playing with the Pinewood Derby at the museum which had been built by an Eagle Scout and donated to the Petersen. First invented in 1953 in Manhattan Beach, CA, the Pinewood Derby is a Cub Scout event in which boys design their own small wooden cars and race them down a wooden ramp. Although there are many elaborate (and expensive) kits for building fancy Pinewood Derby cars, the official Boy Scouts of America website sells a pinewood derby car-making kit for less than $4.00. Click here for purchase information.



Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:
  • Anywhere: Google your city + car museum or click here to see if there is an automotive museum near you.
  • Boston: In 1927, Larz and Isabel Anderson founded The Larz Anderson Auto Museum in their Newton Street home in Brookline. Their love of the automobile began in 1899 when they purchased a Winton Runabout, a true horseless carriage. Every Sunday afternoon they opened their carriage house to share their growing collection of antique cars. On the National Register of Historical Places, it is considered a landmark in the collector car community. A new exhibit showcasing Italian cars runs through April 2009. Open 10-5, Tuesday-Sunday.
  • Houston: The Art Car Museum or "Garage Mahal" as many know it, is a private institution dedicated to contemporary art. The museum showroom celebrates the spirit of the post-modern age of car-culture, in which individuals have remolded the factory-model sameness of their automobiles to the specifications of their own images and visions. The results of these efforts are a true feast for the eyes. Open Wed- Sun 11 to 6.  Call to schedule a personal tour.
  • New York: We have the perfect solution while you wait for the return of the New York International Auto Show (April 10-19). Head over to Cooper Classic Cars, a unique car collection/art gallery on Perry Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village! You can get up close and personal (but don't touch) with classic and exotic cars which are displayed on the exhibit floor as "rolling sculptures" to behold against the backdrop of contemporary art. Enjoy the current photography exhibit "Cars" by Timothy White. Interesting to note, that Cooper Classic keeps the largest collection of film cars. That's right! Cars that are used as props in movies and commercials.  If you own an exotic car maybe it can become a star!
  • San Francisco: A short ride outside of San Francisco, the Blackhawk Museum is a 70,000-square-foot showcase dedicated to collectible cars from all over the world. In August, the museum plans to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and will hold a special open house after the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance -- an annual exhibition dedicated to spectacular show cars like a 1903 Mors J. Rothchild & Fils limousine, a 1909 Winton Touring Model 17, a 1911 Mercedes Labourdette Skiff, and a 1968 Bizzarrini 5300 S.I. Spyder, to name a few. There are special exhibits, lectures, and family events planned throughout the year, many of which are family-friendly!
  • Washington, D.C.: Take a drive out to the Shenandoah Valley. Included with admission to the Luray Caverns is the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum. You'll find all modes of transportation dating back to 1725, including a Conestoga Wagon and Rudolph Valentino's Rolls Royce.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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