The Cars films are clearly supposed to be set on Earth. In the first movie, Lightning McQueen is on his way to Los Angeles, California. In the just-released sequel, McQueen and his pal Mater take a spin around the world, visiting Tokyo, London, and a city in Italy. These are all places that exist on our planet, rendered with Pixar’s usual attention to microscopic detail. And yet, I can’t help noticing that there appears to be one rather essential detail missing from the Cars duet: Human beings.
This is disturbing. Most of Pixar’s films focus on anthropomorphic societies of non-human species — toys, bugs, rats, fish, robots — but all those other films still took place in a universe where human beings existed. Not so Cars: The sequel’s world tour features not one single fleshy biped. That’s despite the fact that Cars 2 clearly maps out a global society that resembles the geopolitics of our Earth: England has a system of monarchy, Tokyo is full of insane neon buildings, in Eetallee everyone-a talk-a like-a theesa, and there is an ongoing struggle between governments and Very Big Evil Corporations. So where are the humans? Here are two theories:
1. Cars takes place in an alternate universe where everything happened just like it did in our universe, except with Cars instead of people.
So all of human history happened, but with cars. Napoleon was a car. Alexander the Great was a car. A filmmaking-car named Stanley Kubrick made a movie called 2001: A Car-Space Odyssey, which began with a half-hour sequence called “The Dawn of Cars” in which hairy cave-cars learned how to use basic car-tools. There is an obvious hole in this theory: the cars in Cars do not appear to be organic. They can switch their wheels. At one point in Cars 2, it turns out that Mater’s air filter has been replaced with a bomb, which is the human equivalent of having one of your kidneys replaced with a bomb, which you would think would be pretty noticeable. So this theory is a dead-end: Humans have to have created the Cars. Which leads us to a terrifying counter-theory:
2. Cars takes place in the future, after living automobiles have destroyed the human race.
Envision, if you would, a prequel to Cars set in, oh, 2012. Battered by the vicissitudes of a miserable economy and the rise of gas prices, the major automobile companies attempt to push car technology into the future by giving their cars artificial intelligence. (And also terrifying windshield eyes and a horrifying bumper-tongue, because kids apparently love both of those things, for some terrible reason.) Unfortunately, they make the cars too intelligent. The world gets totally massacred, Skynet-style. The living cars want to remake the world in their own image… but uh oh, they can’t remake anything, because they don’t have opposable thumbs, because they don’t even have any limbs. Stupid living cars!
Lacking anything better to do, the living cars construct a new society based on racing and learning valuable lessons about friendship while racing. That’s why, in Cars 2, the plot hinges on creating a system of alternative fuels. The cars of Cars have to ration out their fuel… because once it’s gone, they’re all dead.
3. The living cars used to be humans, but they downloaded their memories and personalities into cars so that they could live forever.
The problem with this theory is that cars die all the freaking time, usually alone, unmourned, and unloved.
Fellow humans, can you explain why our species is so absent from the world of Cars? Are these films stealth prequels to WALL-E? Maybe the humans are hiding in a subterranean network of tunnels, plotting their vengeance?
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