Cars vs. Doc Hollywood: Same movie or what?
Like millions of other parents around the US, this weekend I trundled off with my kid to see the new Pixar/Disney movie, Cars. About 15 minutes into it, I started to think, I’ve seen this before.
It was odd, really, because there haven’t been a large number of talking-car movies. Maybe Knight Rider or Herbie, the Love Bug (although the latter didn’t talk, but man, what raw emotion that Volkswagen could portray). Maybe Transformers. But that’s about it.
Then it hits me… a hot-shot racecar on his way to California takes an inadvertent detour from the interstate, winds up in some BFE town, accidentally causes damage, gets sentenced to “community service,” has to stay in town for a week, rails against the slow-witted townfolk at first, falls in love with the random way-too-hot-for-this-hick-town local girl, gets into a spat with the crusty town doctor, ultimately falls for the charms of the town as well as the girl, learns ass loads of life lessons, winds up coming back to BFE town… etc. etc.
Yep, change “hot-shot racecar” to “hot-shot doctor” and you’ve got the plot of Doc Hollywood, starring Michael J. Fox. I mean, it’s eerie. The Doc Hollywood writers should sue the pants off of Steve Jobs’ boys and girls at Pixar. I haven’t seen plagiarism like this since Dook basketball great Greg Newton. (If you don’t get that reference, find a UNC fan… they’ll know.)
So, like I did with Ray and Walk the Line, I can’t help but compare the two. Hell, again, it’s essentially the same plot. Let’s do a comparison of Cars and Doc Hollywood. Anyone want to see who wins? You with me? No? Who cares…
Cars: A majority of the movie takes place in Radiator Springs, a former stop on the famed Route 66 that was bypassed when I-40 came through the area. The city is struggling, as drivers no longer stop by for gas, tires, paint jobs, etc.
Doc Hollywood: Much of this movie is set in the fictional Grady, South Carolina – home of the Squash Festival (or something like that). Not sure how many stoplights it had, but you could walk down the street with a pig and nobody would look at you with a bit of amusement.
Advantage: Cars. I always thought the Grady was a little too stereotypical of Southern towns. I mean, really… I grew up in a town that had a “Poultry Jubilee” and boasted the “World’s Largest Frying Pan” and I was aghast at the depiction of Grady. On the other hand, the entire Cars movie is based on a fantasy where cars are the world’s only inhabitants. So, if Radiator Springs wasn’t life-like, no biggie. I’m watching talking cars.
PROTAGONIST (that’s the main character to anyone who flunked Intro to Drama)
Cars: Owen Wilson provides the voice of Lightning McQueen, a NASCAR-esque racer who finished in a tie with a Richard Petty-esque car (voiced by the King himself) and an asshole car (voiced by the ever-surprising Michael Keaton) for the Piston Cup. So, the movie revolves around Lightning’s trek to a three-car, winner-take-all race in California. Lightning is self-absorbed and cocky, but he ultimately finds out that friendship and love are the best things in the world. Owen does a good job of capturing this character. His voice is self-assured with an undercurrent of vulnerability. Overall, a good job.
Doc Hollywood: Michael J. Fox as Dr. Benjamin Stone. Playing a self-assured doctor. Full of himself, yet still being an approachable, likeable guy. From Family Ties through Spin City and most movies in between, he always brought his A game. In Doc Hollywood, he did a phenomenal job with a B+ script. Plus, we later found out that his Parkinson’s disease really started to show while he was making this movie. Did you notice? Nope. Nobody did. Overall, a great job.
Advantage: Doc Hollywood. Owen was good, but Fox made Doc Hollywood an enjoyable movie, especially in multiple viewings. Overall, this is one of his good early 90s efforts that helped us forget movies like The Hard Way, Light of Day and Bright Lights, Big City (the last one at least gave us the foundation for an all-time porn movie title… think about it).
Cars: Bonnie Hunt plays Sally Carrera, a Porsche who’s stuck in the one-stoplight town of Radiator Springs. She has obviously had opportunities to go elsewhere, but she has devoted herself to saving the struggling town. She bristles against the charms of Lightning initially, but she ultimately falls for the hunk.
Doc Hollywood: Julie Warner plays Vialula, aka Lou, an ambulance driver who’s actually a lawyer that once lived in New York, but she got knocked up and moved back to Grady with her daughter. She’s resigned herself to the pace of life in Grady, but she obviously wants more. She bristles against the charms of Dr. Stone initially, but she ultimately falls for the (wee little) hunk.
Advantage: Doc Hollywood. It was Julie Warner in her heyday (which began with this movie and strangely enough ends with Tommy Boy). Her character was pretty complex and deep. Not really a close race. Oh, and fun fact, we first see Sally in a courtroom serving as a prosecuting attorney in Lightning’s case. Just like Lou went to law school in Doc Hollywood. And yes, I’ve officially been thinking about this waaaaay too much.
CRUSTY OLD MAN IN TOWN
Cars: Here’s where the similarities get really weird. Paul Newman voices Doc Hudson, the town’s magistrate and mechanic (aka, doctor) who’s really hard on Lightning throughout the movie. He ultimately comes around and agrees to be Lightning’s crew chief in the final race. Along the way, we learn that Doc Hudson was a former Piston Cup champ – a fact he hid from everyone in Radiator Springs – but he retired after wrecking in a race. The wreck left him emotionally scarred (if that’s possible for an automobile), and a wee bit bitter.
Doc Hollywood: Barnard Hughes plays Doc Hogue, the town doctor who delivered babies and tended to the sick in Grady for decades. When Dr. Stone shows up, he gleefully points out all of the things that the hotshot young doctor doesn’t know. A real asshole with a heart of gold, I guess. Like Doc Hudson, Doc Hogue comes around at the end of the movie, calling Dr. Stone’s would-be employer in Beverly Hills and vouches for the young man. Awwwww…
Advantage: Cars. Paul Newman vs. Barnard Hughes. You figure it out. But they were essentially the same character doing the same job. I mean, c’mon Pixar! Did your writer just find an old script and copy it?
WACKY DETOUR OFF THE INTERSTATE
Cars: En route to California, Lightning is riding in the trailer of an 18-wheeler (Mack, voiced by John Ratzenberger – who has made a cottage industry of voicing Pixar movies). Mack falls asleep on I-40, and a sleeping Lightning accidentally falls out of the trailer. Lightning tries to catch up with Mack, but he accidentally follows another 18-wheeler and finds himself near Radiator Springs. While trying to evade the police (he’s being stopped because he has decals for headlights, not the lights themselves), he pretty much rips the town apart. Doc Hudson sentences him to repave Main Street.
Doc Hollywood: En route to Calilfornia, Dr. Stone looks at a map while driving a little too fast in his vintage Porsche. He looks up, almost hits an oncoming car and runs through a picket fence. The fence belongs to the town magistrate. So, the judge assigns Dr. Stone to pay for the damages to his fence by serving the town as its doctor for a week.
Advantage: Cars. The one thing that always bugged me about Doc Hollywood: why the hell was Dr. Stone in South Carolina if he was going from NYC to California. Who planned that trip? Jose Feliciano? I know it was 1991 and Mapquest wasn’t around, but jeez. That’s ri-damn-diculous.
Cars: While speaking to an audience at a sponsor’s event, Lightning prepares to address the crowd when the lights dim. It’s all silent and dark… and then you hear something from the back of the room. A lone voice hollering, “Freebird!” Now, as someone who has yelled “Play some Skynrd!” at every concert I’ve ever attended (symphonies included), I gotta tell you, I almost peed my pants. Fantastic and completely unexpected. (By the way, “Play some Skynrd” really unnerved Janet Jackson. She was “bringing the room down” before singing “Let’s Wait Awhile” and I just shouted it out. Good times.)
Doc Hollywood: Four words. Julie Warner skinny dipping. She emerges buck freakin’ naked from a lake as Dr. Stone is trying to shake off a hangover after his first night in Grady. To say that I was surprised by this scene is putting it mildly. Just a nice… bit of scenery. As my college buddy Tony once said, that one scene made this the best date movie of the year. Girls got a nice romantic comedy; guys got boobies. Plus, it really ups the value of re-watching the movie on HBO, not on basic cable. I’m just sayin’.
Advantage: Doc Hollywood, in a laugher.
COLORFUL CAST OF SECONDARY CATEGORIES
Cars: In Radiator Springs, Lightning meets Mater the tow truck, Luigi who sells tires and loves racing cars but only Ferraris in Europe (note that Dr. Stone drove a foreign sportscar in Doc Hollywood, by the way), Fillmore the hippy who lives next to Sarge the army car, Ramone who does paint jobs for cars and his girl Flo who owns the service station. They are voiced by, respectively, Larry the Cable Guy, Tony Shaloub, George Carlin, Paul Dooley, Cheech Marin and Jenifer Lewis.
Doc Hollywood: In Grady, Dr. Stone runs into a bunch of characters: Woody Harrelson as Lou’s would-be fiancée Hank Gordon, David Ogden Stiers as the mayor, and Bridget Fonda as the mayor’s amorous daughter.
Advantage: Doc Hollywood. Like Julie Warner, Bridget Fonda was absolutely peaking when this movie was made. Stiers is always solid (Major Winchester!). And during a conversation about sex, Woody (huh huh) drops in a line about animal husbandry. Classic. Plus, any movie with Larry the Cable Guy loses style points. Do you realize he’s from Nebraska? From a middle-class background? And that he’s as much of a redneck as George W. is a cowboy? In the immortal words of Michael Bolton from Office Space, LTCG is in fact an no-talent ass clown. That’s funny, I don’t care who you are.
So, let’s go to the tally. It’s a 3-3 tie!! Wow. I didn’t see that coming. But, I’ll create a new category — Intangibles — and just say that since Doc Hollywood came first (and because of the Julie Warner nude scene), I gotta go with Michael J. Fox and company. That’s a 4-3 decision.
But, if you’re looking for a good movie, and you liked Doc Hollywood, you could do worse than Cars. You certainly should see most of the plot points coming a mile down the interstate.