The March 1911 edition of the Carriage Monthly mentions Detroit as being the “Motor City.” One hundred years on, the nickname appears to have stuck. But what about the next hundred?
Whether you presently adore or abhor the name — or prefer the Gordy-coined “Motown” — you are unlikely to recognize Motorcity, the animated futuristic Detroit, in the Disney XD cartoon of the same name.
Even if you’re a dedicated Mouseketeer, you probably didn’t know that Disney XD existed. The channel’s target demographic is male viewers age 6-14, but it’s a welcome television destination for anyone who has become immune to seizures traditionally induced by methamphetamine or SpongeBob SquarePants.
So, just what is Motorcity?
A crystal ball into the all-but-inevitable future of our fair city, in which an eccentric billionaire constructs an entirely new city (Detroit Deluxe) on top of the old, and an underground band of speed-demon rebels is the only thing standing between him and total municipal domination?
An incisive satire, holding a funhouse mirror up to the surrealism of power and politics that we have come to accept as the local status quo?
An avant-garde masterpiece that captures the wretched beauty of the post-industrial landscape taken to its futuristic extremes?
Probably none of the above, but the enterprise at least merits a few hundred words of further investigation. In the spirit of the show, I — having watched the first few episodes so you don’t have to — offer not a coherent narrative but a frenetic series of disorienting sensory observations:
> Abraham Kane rules Detroit Deluxe with an iron fist, manipulating its residents for his own enrichment and amusement. We won’t know for sure until future episodes if he’s based on Matty Maroun or Dan Gilbert . . .
> Or perhaps Kwame Kilpatrick, should he win his billion-dollar lawsuit over the leaked text messages. (At least the loss would prevent defendant Skynet from developing artificial intelligence and building Terminators to destroy humanity.)
> According to Mike, the “cool, quick-witted, funny, gutsy, impulsive 17-year-old” protagonist and narrator, “Kane promised everyone the city of the future. He never told them it would cost them their freedom. Most of them don’t even realize what they’ve lost.”
This is clearly a metaphor for the suburbs — an antisocial, antiseptic world of strip malls and cul-de-sacs. Except, in Detroit Deluxe, no one is allowed to drive, whereas none of us are allowed not to.
> In the pilot episode, battle ensues when Kane’s forces breach Motorcity’s Eastside, which is presumably Warren, which supports my otherwise unsubstantiated theory that modern-day Detroit is a net importer of crime.
> Mark Hamill, 30 years after Return of the Jedi, voices the villain. Maybe the twist is because Star Wars took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and Motorcity is a long time from now, right here.
> Stranger still is the familiar voice of Brian Doyle-Murray, Bill’s oldest brother.
> The cars are the real stars of Motorcity. I know nothing about cars. My bumpers are attached with zip ties. So I asked Josh Condon, editor of Exhaust Notes at MSN Autos:
“Actual car design has become so homogenized due to modern safety regulations that it’s actually quite refreshing to see someone imagine what a car would look like without being constrained by pedestrian-impact design requirements or a roof’s minimum load-bearing capacity. That being said, even animators imagining vehicles in a dystopian future couldn’t come up with anything half as odd as Plymouth was actually putting on the road in the 1970s.”
Of course, sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon. Or, in this case, a cartoon with built-in video games and extensive merchandise tie-ins.