We all know that Cars, Cars 2, and Cars 3 are confusing enough when thinking about how their world works or makes sense compared to ours. But for Pixar Theory fans, we have a lot of great arguments to hang our tin-foil hats on. The following is a transcription of the video you can watch above explaining all of this.
Despite what you may think of them, people love the Cars movies. No, they’re not in love with the stories, characters, or visuals, though some are. They’re just in love with talking about the conceptual implications of an animated movie that raises a ton of questions about its in-universe logic.
The random truth is that dissecting these colorful, magical kids’ movies is actually pretty fun, even for me, someone who was never in love with the Cars movies themselves or all that interested in the question: “did the Cars take over mankind and if they did, how?” I think it’s fairly obvious that the filmmakers at Pixar didn’t have a meta-commentary in mind about A.I. taking over the world through the cars we love or any other idea in that vein…well, maybe they did.
But what is clear to me is that they created a world imaginative enough for various methods of interpretation, which is why something like the Pixar Theory exists, suggesting that all of the Pixar movies themselves share a single universe explained by their frequent cameos, Easter eggs, plot themes.
When writing the book for The Pixar Theory, Cars especially was an avenue that I spent more time fleshing out, which is what we’re mainly here to discuss. And if that sounds bonkers or self-serving to you…well, you’re probably right, but it was just earlier this year that Pixar producer Jay Ward, who worked on Cars, outright confirmed a huge piece of my theory related to the movie, even though he’s said in the past that he doesn’t believe in the Pixar Theory itself and his overall take on the explanation behind the Cars universe differs from mine.
So what was it that I got right about Cars? Well, you can probably tell from the headline that this is all about what happened to the humans and why. And for the sake of time, I’ll give you the ridiculously short version of the Pixar Theory itself to set this up, though only the most relevant details you need to know now.
One of the main tenets of the Pixar Theory is that many of these films allude to human emotion being a source of actual, real-life energy. It’s the energy that makes toys come to life, powers an entire civilization of blue-collar monsters, gives some people superpowers, and residually breathes life and personality into machines. In other words, humans are batteries, and a lot of the phenomena in the Pixar universe can be explained by this very idea.
Which brings us to Cars. In the timeline of the Pixar movies, Cars occurs during the offscreen events of WALL-E, or 2110 to be exact. Mankind has abandoned Earth because all of the garbage they incinerated starting in 2105 polluted the atmosphere to dangerous levels of toxicity before they finished cleaning up the last of it, which is comprised of what we see in the opening city crawl of WALL-E. With humans gone and most of the world cleaned up, 700 years pass before humans return thanks to WALL-E’s intervention.
In that 700 years, we get the Cars movies. And similar to the movie Toy Story, the cars themselves actually come to life because humans are not around. Except humans aren’t around at all, so to make up for this, the cars take on the personalities of the humans who owned them.
This explains why there are flashbacks in the first Cars movie to a version of the 20th Century where cars are the people instead of the actual people. They have false memories of events that really happened via the dates that are mentioned, like Doc Hudson’s races in the 1950s and Radiator Springs being founded in the early 1900s.
It’s a simple enough explanation that gets around the conceptual insanity of a supposed parallel universe where humans never existed despite all plot holes that argue the opposite, and it conveniently fits the framework of a shared universe of Pixar movies for those who find that sort of thing convincing. Personally, I think it makes the context of the Cars movies a bit more interesting to know that it could possibly be grounded in a world that’s familiar and has interesting stakes beyond occasionally clumsy world-building, fixing some of the minor flaws of a franchise that albeit has bigger problems depending on how Cars 3 turns out.
And I’m not alone in thinking this. As I already mentioned before, Jay Ward has proposed shades of the same explanation for where humans went, specifically during an interview with Screen Crush’s Matt Singer. To be fair, his theory and mine are still noticeably different overall, and he made clear to Singer that this in no way Pixar’s official stance (personally, I don’t think they should or need to answer questions like that, anyway).
That said, Ward’s theory is that the cars themselves rose up against humans after deciding that because of the rise of self-driving cars, they can rule the world instead of people. He points out that cars getting smarter is the root of this and humans are, as he puts it, “extra weight.” Though we disagree on this part, mainly because it has its own obvious holes, Ward does think that “the car takes on the personality of the last person who drove it,” a lynchpin of my own explanation from a few years ago.
What happened to the cars before WALL-E? You might already know the answer to that question if you’re one of the twelve people who went out to see Cars 2, which is centered around the new plot detail that the cars face a resource crisis and are running out of oil and gasoline. Makes sense if you have a world already short on fossil fuels and now populated by cars that run 24/7. So by the time we get to WALL-E, it’s implied that the cars died out on their own. This also explains why the monsters have to go back in time through the doors to find energy to power their civilization because there are no fossil fuels left and—oh, sorry that’s Pixar Theory stuff you might have no context for. My bad.
Anyway, that’s my frankly bizarre and admittedly convoluted way of interpreting the logical implications of the Cars movies. Sounds about right based on the material we’re working with, but hey, at least I’m not trying to convince you that cars are insects.