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Go, Speed Racers

Around the track with the stars of Cars

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Do you take it for granted when Pixar has a new project that you're going to be landing a role?

I never take anything for granted; I just realize how lucky and blessed I am that I get the call. But John [Lasseter] and I share a curiosity about the world and what goes on, so we actually talk a lot about things other than the work we're doing. When we first met on Toy Story, it was like being invited into a good friend's sandbox.

What are your thoughts on your character?

My father was a truck driver; John knew that. Halfway through the process, [producer] Darla Anderson asked, "What kind of a truck did your dad drive?" I said, "A Mack truck." They had already started talking to another company to make a deal, but they stopped and went right to Mack without me knowing it. Darla and John had decided to make it a Mack because my father drove a Mack. When you have people like that who care ... it means a lot to me, and I wish my dad were still around to see this.

Since you're spending more time on your show [John Ratzenberger's Made In America, airing on the Travel Channel], does it take more to get you to accept an acting job?

Ever since my kids were small -- one's in college now, one's about to go -- I only wanted to be involved in projects that I can sit there with them and not feel ashamed. For instance, [take a film where] the high school principal is the knucklehead and the wise-guy 16-year-old is the hero. Well, I know it's hard enough to raise kids without putting that message out there, that adult authority figures are stupid and only kids are smart. I just don't want to be part of that message, cuz the real world doesn't work like that. I don't want to sit there with my kids and be embarrassed by some gag that might be below the belt or some bodily function joke. You see it in a lot of animation and I don't know why. My theory is that the writers don't have kids, and they don't understand the impact that this makes. My oldest son learned his first swearword this way. He dropped the s-bomb when he was 5 years old. I said, "That's a new word for you. Where did you hear that?" And he said the name of a movie -- I won't say which movie, but it was a very popular kids' film.

Have you heard anything about Toy Story 3?

I was asked about it before Pixar became part of Disney -- or however that's working out -- but if Pixar's not involved, I'm not going to be involved. Dance with the one who brought you.

OLDER GENERATIONS KNOW Cheech Marin as half of the pothead team of Cheech & Chong, but kids have a different perception of him altogether. After the duo parted ways in 1985, Marin found sustained work as an actor on TV and in movies, with family films filling up a substantial chunk of his resume. Marin has provided voices in (among others) The Lion King, FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Oliver & Company and has appeared in the Spy Kids trilogy; he's also recorded a pair of children's albums. For Cars, Marin provides the voice of Ramone, a 1959 Impala low-rider.

You've been cast in a few animated films over the years; were you a big cartoon fan growing up?

Oh, yeah, totally. I loved cartoons. I was in the first generation that had TV. I once told my son, who's 21 now, "When I was a real little kid, we didn't have TV." And he said, "Yeah, I know, you were too poor." "No, it wasn't invented yet." And he looked at me like, "Wow, what was it like the first time you saw fire?" But cartoons were always on, and I was glued to them. I was almost encyclopedic about cartoons.

Do you approach your animated roles differently than your live-action parts?

For me, it's like sculpting with a chain saw. I don't think there's any top to go over -- I don't think you can get too big. Because you're competing with this idealized image that's gleaming and brash and in your face, and when you do a regular voice, it falls flat. You have to animate your performance as well.

What's the status of another Cheech & Chong movie?

DOA. We've tried to do it a bunch of times and we always end up at the same place -- all the old animosities resurface. But you know what? I'm real comfortable leaving Cheech & Chong right where it is. I was a big Laurel and Hardy fan as a kid -- I used to watch them on TV all the time -- and one time I saw a film they made when they were a lot older, and it creeped me out. So yeah, we'll leave Cheech & Chong right where it is.

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