Why There Are No Humans In Pixar’s ‘Cars’

We all know that CarsCars 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.

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11 thoughts on “Why There Are No Humans In Pixar’s ‘Cars’

  1. I think this is your way of replying back to MatPat’s Cars are insects theory. I want to see MatPat do the rest of the Pixar Theory.

    • The only reason I’d want to see MatPat continue on his own Pixar “Theory” (read, baseless speculation), is to see the various Snarcasm articles that might spawn from that mess.

    • As long as he doesn’t plagiarize other YouTubers again, I’m all for it.

  2. Well, I’m not sure about the cars rising up against humans part, but it does shed some light on the overall theory. Interesting. But anyway, I need to point this out, and it deals with ‘A Bug’s Life taking place in 2898. While it’s charming to see that this beloved film takes place in the future, after looking closer at the tree on Ant Island appearances in ‘Toy Story 2’ and ‘Up,’ along with the pizza planet truck with the trailer appearing in ‘Monsters Inc.,’ it got me to rethink this part of the theory. I actually believed this part of the theory for a long time, despite the obvious 20th century references, but thanks to ‘The Good Dinosaur’s,’ part of the theory, I’ve thought of something that may change ‘A Bug’s Life’ view on the theory. (And from my knowledge nobody has thought of this). It’s more of rearranging than debunking.
    Forgive if this gets very long and the constant “stated in the theory” I have no other way to put this, well maybe. You state in your theory on how ‘The Good Dinosaur’ fits with all the other Pixar movies is that since the asteroid never hit the Earth and caused the dinosaurs to have human intelligence millions of years later. (Well that could be assumed by the movie itself). Well, it got me to believe that this occurrence happened to bugs as well. They had millions of years, so it could happen. (In the Pixar Universe that is). Which gets me to believe that ‘A Bug’s Life’ takes place in good old 1998.
    Here are my reasons. Stuff I’ll be saying comes from the book. I do believe that the bugs lifespans have been altered greatly, you quoted in the theory of ‘The Good Dinosaur,’ “the longer evolution of these strange creatures brought about magic,” which get’s me to believe that the aging enhancement of bugs where effected by magic. This may not be correct, but my alternate idea is that they evolved to have a longer lifespan. As for the weather pattern, it got me to think. I don’t believe that winter happened overnight, I think they went through the whole winter, a harsh one that is. They gathered what they could muster and prayed that not everyone died during the winter. Also this gives them plenty of time to make Flik’s inventions for next spring. Finally for Heimlich, it takes two weeks for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly, so I assume he got into his cacoon two weeks before the final moments of the movie. Just saying. As for humans being absent, well this goes along with an explanation that motivated me to come up with this whole thing, the tree. It’s the same tree in ‘Toy Story 2’ and ‘Up,’ you said you believe the events of these three movies take place in California. I believe that. But I don’t see how that same tree can live through the events in ‘WALL-E’ and somehow come back to life, unless it’s a magic tree. Also I don’t think it’s the same tree from ‘WALL-E,’ it’s too complicated to be that exact looking tree, plus the Axiom might not move for being a historical monument.
    If ‘A Bug’s Life’ does take place in 1998, then why is the geography different in ‘Toy Story 2’ and ‘Up?’ I’m pretty sure the formation will change over time. The pond will be made and then eventually become a hill again. Then why doesn’t the ants see humans as a threat? Our visitors we see in ‘Toy Story 2’ and ‘Up’ are only playing and gazing at the sky. They don’t really care about attacking ants. Although the ants my have forgotten to mention humans, there’s that.
    As for the references in Bug City there’s a whole bunch of things that related to the 20th century, not the 29th century. If ‘A Bug’s Life’ was to take place after ‘WALL-E’ the humans would worry more on rebuilding Earth rather than reproducing products and advertisements for the 20th century. As for the pizza planet truck and the trailer, I think the shot in ‘Monsters Inc.’ is in the bayou. In ‘A Bug’s Life’ John Lasseter says the trailer is Todd’s (the pizza delivery guy, his car versions name is stated in ‘Cars’) humble home, he invisions it at least. Which gets me to believe he sold his trailer and pizza truck to the women and son seen in ‘Monsters Inc.’ and they moved to the bayous or somewhere. I wrote a short story about the pizza planet truck to explain it better and weirder but I’ve taken too much time already.
    Those are my reasons why I think ‘A Bug’s Life’ takes place in 1998. Sorry if it took so long to read this on a random topic, well not completely. I expanded this explanation across a lot of Pixar films but I felt like I needed to point this out. Even though some of those things I’ve said you’ve probably heard a lot before. But what the hey.

    • This is awesome. Great analysis and though I still prefer my own interpretation, yours is perfectly valid.

  3. I´m not buying the Cars´ theory. When the vehicles were suppossed to gain self-awareness? In Radiator Springs there is a foundational monument depicting the old lady´s husband, who they are both cachilas, old cars. Also, the cars seems to have deleted, not just humans, but the whole animal kingdom. Don´t forget those winged, insect-like, mini-VW beetles. And you never see real life animals at all.

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