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NASCAR stars & legendary car designers lend their street cred to Disney Junior's new "Mickey and the Roadster Racers" show

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NASCAR stars & legendary car designers lend their street cred to Disney Junior's new "Mickey and the Roadster Racers" show

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"Mickey and the Roadster Racers" may look like a cute little cartoon show from the outside. But were you to pop the hood of this new Disney Television Animation production (which premieres tomorrow on Disney Junior at 9 a.m. ET/PT), you'd discover that some serious car cred went into its creation.

Mind you, that's largely because Rob LaDuca (i.e., the executive producer of "Roadsters Racers") and Mark Seidenberg (who's the Co-EP & Supervising Story Editor of this show) are both car nuts. Which is why, when they were still in the research phase of this project, Rob & Mark made a point of reaching out to both the racing & the car collecting community.

"When we were initially planning this show - which has Mickey and the gang being race car drivers - Mark and I thought it would be fun if the viewers could watch the characters' regular cars transform into hot rods," LeDuca explained during a recent phone interview. "And since we wanted all of these hot rods to look as authentic as possible ... Well, that's why we reached out to Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth. Who was THE hot rod designer back in the 1960s. Ed was nice enough to show us his collection which has all of these eccentric roadsters. Cars that were really out there. And what we saw there definitely influenced the roadsters that we designed for Mickey and the gang."

(L to R) Mark Seidenberg, co-executive producer and Supervising Story Editor for
"Mickey and the Roadster Racers," and Rob LaDuca, executive producer of this
new Disney Junior Series. Photo by Craig Sjodin. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

"We also met with George Barris who designed the original Munster Koach and the Batmobile for those television series back in the 1960s," Seidenberg enthused. "Seeing George's car collection up-close really helped us get a handle on one of the core conceits for this Disney Junior show. Which is that each of the roadster racers should actually look like the character who drives it."

Take - for example - Mickey Mouse. Given that he's a classic American character, Rob & Mark decided that Mickey should drive a classic American car. Which is why the Mouse's roadster is a Model T which - come race time - transforms into a classic hot rod.

"Now as for Minnie ... Well, she's classy and soft and wears lots of bows. She's a little bit frilly. So when we were looking for a suitable roadster for her, I remember that there were these beautiful art deco cars from the 1930s that I've always loved from France called the Delage," LaDuca explained. "And when we were calling up images of the Delage on the computer or looking at that vehicle at car shows, I couldn't help but think that the Delage actually looks like a bow. Which is why it had to be Minnie's car."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And - of course - Goofy had to have a goofy car," Seidenberg laughed. "And so what better car for him than one that's based on a bath tub. With a working showerhead no less."

This playful sense of design permeates all aspects of "Mickey and the Roadster Racers." Take - for example - the cavernous garage that the characters use as their base of operation. The exterior of this building is actually shaped like a car.

"So we admittedly had a fun design for the outside of Mickey's Garage. But then there was the matter of what the inside should look like," Rob continued. "Luckily, we got the chance to see Jay Leno's car collection. And the building that Jay keeps his car collection in not only has all of these fantastic cars, but it also has these posters & articles & toys & trophies that pertain to each car. And that all looked so great that we then used Jay's garage as inspiration for how Mickey would decorate the interior of his garage."

Billy Beagle (voiced by Jay Leno) describes the car-shaped course that Mickey and 
the gang will be following as they race around Hot Dog Hills. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Best of all, it was Leno himself who took LaDuca & Seidenberg around that amazing collection. Which is why - as this tour of his car collection was drawing to a close - Rob & Mark were then able to pitch Jay on the idea of voicing a character for "Mickey and the Roadster Racers."

"While we were originally sketching out this show, Mark and I had created this race announcer character, Billy Beagle. We wanted him to be really enthusiastic, to always go over-the-top with enthusiasm," Rob recalled. "And as we were finishing our tour of Jay's car collection and thanking him for being so generous with his time & expertise, Mark and I turned to Jay and said 'You know, there's this race announcer character on the show. And we were wondering if ...' And before we could even finish asking Jay, he had launched into this big, booming, over-the-top voice. He was already announcing a race. And right after that, we said 'That's it. You're hired.' "

"Which was great. But you want to know the very best part of hiring Jay Leno to voice Billy Beagle? He'd show up for each of his recording sessions driving a different car," Mark remembered. "One afternoon, Jay drove a World War II Jeep to the recording studio. The next week, it was a Model T Ford. The week after that, it was a Fiat from the 1940s. A Fiat 500, to be exact. Which was called a 'Topolino.' Which means 'little mouse' in Italian. We eventually learned that - on days when Jay was scheduled to record - it was best to wait outside the studio for him to arrive. Just so you could then see what he drove to that recording session."

Jay Leno poses with his Topolino, a Fiat 500 from the 1940s.

And speaking of driving ... To give "Mickey and the Roadster Racers" even more street cred (at least when it came to racing fans), LaDuca & Seidenberg recruited some of NASCAR's biggest stars to come voice characters on this Disney Junior show. These included modern racing legends Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick, and Jeff Gordon. Whose cartoon counterparts are known as Jiminy Johnson, Danni Sue, and Gordon Gear respectively.

"We also tried - whenever Mickey and the gang travel to a particular part of the world to race - to find a celebrity who's closely associated with that country or region to come in and voice a character for that show," Rob said. "Take - for example - that episode we have coming up which is set in Hawaii. We actually brought on Tia Carrere to do the voice of Auntie Olina."

But it's not just racing fans or those who are into celebrity voices who'll enjoy watching "Mickey and the Roadster Races." Animation enthusiasts are sure to find a lot to like about this new Disney Television Animation production. Which deliberately tries to replicate the colorful look & feel of those "Mickey Mouse" shorts from the 1940s.

Jiminy Johnson (voiced by NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson) admires the tire that Mickey
and the gang just gave him. Copyright Disney Junior. All rights reserved

"Everyone who works on 'Roadster Racers' is steeped in the history of Disney animation. More to the point, our whole crew just loves it when Mickey and the gang get to do slapstick. So right from the earliest design right on through to storyboarding, we were putting the characters in all sorts of strong poses to really try & help get that point across. Make sure that each of these episodes was just as funny & entertaining as it possibly could be," Mark stated.

"To me, what's been kind of amazing to watch over the past few years is to see how far Disney Television Animation has come. Mark and I previously did a series for Disney Junior called 'Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.' Which was this nice, gentle show. Of course, one of the main reasons that 'Mickey Mouse Clubhouse' was so nice & gentle was that - back then - there were some real limitations when it came to what you could do with Mickey and the gang when you animated this characters in CG," LaDuca explained.

"Whereas now -- because the rigs that they use for television animation are so much better and the technology that's used to create CG animation is so much more powerful & intuitive -- the animation has gotten so much better. We can really cut lose now," Seidenberg enthused. "That's why - whenever a new episode of 'Roadsters' comes in for us to start post on - we all gather around to watch it. It's really great to see animators from today's generation getting the chance to have some fun with Mickey and the gang, really playing up the slapstick in this show's scenes and the expressions on the characters."

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Saturday, January 17, 2017

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