Friday, August 10, 2012

Seligman AZ - Inspiration for CARS' Radiator Springs

The PIXAR movie CARS was a smash hit, but was that town Radiator Springs based on any real town? Some articles have previously tried to line up the buildings and landmarks with other landmarks in real towns along Route 66, many of them in diverse places like Texas, California, and Kansas.

But the town itself - one part of Route 66 that dried up when the Interstate came through - is based on Seligman, Arizona. John Lasseter admitted as much to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an interview, when he said that a lot of the story came from barber Angel Delgadillo from Seligman.

That begs the question: what's Seligman like today? In 2000 it had 465 residents, clearly down from its peak as a Route 66 town. The Interstate in question is I-40, and you'd pass right by Seligman if you went from Needles, California out to the Grand Canyon. Probably you'd pass right by it.

The town has a single major thoroughfare. We didn't venture to any side streets, which appeared to be extremely small in scale and scope. On the outskirts of town, you'll find an odd homestead, and maybe a junkyard (inspiration for Mater's junkyard?) We also passed by some cows, as it was a couple of miles from our off-ramp to get to the town. You could almost imagine Lightning McQueen making that one wrong turn and heading away from the interstate instead of toward it.

As we got closer to town, we saw a few sad motels. None of them looked busy or particularly newly painted. They also didn't stand out architecturally - nothing here was a visual inspiration for the movie. But the idea was the same.

Most of the town consisted of a few blocks in the middle, all along the main street, with various kinds of standalone stores. We saw eateries that were somewhat busy (which was somewhat surprising), but the vast majority of places looked lonely, and some looked closed and vacant. We were not joined by many cars on the road, but there were a few.

We saw several shops that hawked Route 66 souvenirs. Oddly, none of the shops proclaimed anything about the town's status as the inspiration for the CARS movie. I suspect it would increase their business if they did, actually. The closest we saw was a souvenir shop that gamely tried to dress up regular cars like the movie cars, though the Lightning McQueen race car missed the mark on the colors.

I was both amused and horrified by the name of the Roadkill Cafe. Sadly, we lacked the time to eat here, but I was sorely tempted.

After the central blocks, we passed the vacant fire department building and came to the residential area (also concentrated on just this one central road). Most of the homes looked to be boarded up and empty. That was also true of the modern-looking Exxon gas station at the very end of town, where we found an access road that led back to Interstate-40, which apparently we had been paralleling all along during our drive through town.

I left happy that I'd seen a slice of Disney movie history, but also sad for the fate of the town. It was like watching the movie but stopping before the final denouement when vitality returned to the town, and a bit of a downer.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.