The only Burning Question from 'Cars 2': Seriously, where are all the human beings? Did the cars pull a Skynet?


Image Credit: Disney

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?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
Is Mater Pixar’s Jar Jar Binks?
Summer Movie (Auto) Body Count: A surprising amount of car-nage
Box office reports: ‘Cars 2′ cruises

Comments (67 total) Add your comment
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  • Joe

    I’m confused, is this a non-fiction movie?

    • WestCoast

      Um, it’s about cars isn’t it? It’s not called Humans….there were no humans in the first one either..get it?

  • sheky17g

    First of all it would be 2001: a Parking Space Odyssey

    I believe the cars in CARS are bio-mechanical organisms that developed naturally in an alternate dimension. They may not have opposable thumbs, but they have moxie! Either that or the cars have enslaved human kind and forced them underground like the Eloi only to be let out to do the cars bidding. That would make sense since Pixar is owned by Disney.

    • tracy bluth

      2001: A Parking Space Odyssey? Sounds like my new favorite film!

  • Craig S

    It’s clearly #1, and you’re clearly overthinking it.

    • Elizabeth

      Clearly you aren’t familiar with Darren’s posts…

  • EMB

    And this is why I don’t get the Cars series. I love that all the others are sort of amped up real life what ifs. What if… monsters were real, you knew what bugs did, your toys could talk, a rat could cook, etc. In cars, there’s no context in the real world. It just doesn’t hit home with me. Plus the second one seems an excuse to just have an action movie, none of the Pixar heart.

    • Cygnus

      Agreed. THe Cars movies seem out of place in the Pixar catalog. They seem more like the pre-school division of Disney hacked into Pixar’s computers, and produced this crap.

  • Michelle

    LOL. I’ve always wondered this while watching the original “Cars” (hey, I’m in the minority as I loved that movie and watch it quite often). However, I suppose we’re all over-thinking this. It is, after all, an animated, children’s movie. I’m not sure we’re supposed to question the “why” or “how” here.

    • hobbes242

      I agree with all of what you said, except that you called it a children’s movie. Many of the geniuses at Pixar have gone blue in the fact pointing out that their movies are aimed at everyone. Brad Bird has said when adults come up to him and say “My kids love your movies!” his reply is “Okay, and what did *you* think of them?”

      • hobbes242

        Oops. That should be “blue in the face”

  • Francisco

    Your article is amusing but dude c’mon.

  • sheky17g

    if there were humans in Cars it would be even more of a direct rip off of Thomas the Tank Engine or Bob the Builder.

  • Joe

    Where was this dissertation on the world of Kung Fu Panda? No humans there as well.

    • BrandonK

      I guess anthropomorphic animals, some of whom have opposable thumbs, is a bit easier to accept. :0)

      • Monty

        It was that every PIXAR film exists in a world with humans, not every animated movie. Cars is the only PIXAR movie with no humans.

      • Sam

        Exactly, BrandonK. I can buy that anthropomorphic animals with opposable thumbs can build, create and survive on the plant. But how can the cars in CARS do anything? How did they make the wasabi for Mater to eat? How could he have thought it was ice cream when there aren’t any cows on the planet? I demand answers!

      • Sam


    • Delia from Detroit

      You could also wonder what on earth happened to the humans in “Robots.” Were these seemingly benign creatures the doom of the human race too, much like the Terminator scenario?

  • Stacie

    This really bothered me, even in the first one. I’d like to go with the first theory, even though it really pushes intelligent design.

  • emma

    Um….it’s an animated movie. Sit back and enjoy and stop overanalyzing!

  • Cracker

    Clearly. you had nothing else to write about, so you take a jab at a kids movie… Good Going?

    • Mike

      Relax folks. The writer is obviously just going for a laugh. It is clearly not an indictment of Pixar.

  • SLB

    This is my least favorite Pixar movie. It actually looked like a bit of a hunk, but now that i know that Sig Hansen is in it, i’ll see it when it comes to tv.

  • Nighthawk969

    Seriously??? You get a chance to write an artical about a very popular KIDS movie, and this is what you focus on?? Were you bored?? Pissed this was your assignment and not some one on one interview with some hottie actress/actor? Its a fun KIDS movie that kids and adults enjoy with funny comparisions to humans. Take it for what it is and always meant to be, a fun KIDS movie. Whats next?? Going to get into deep philosophical discussions about how most, if not all KIDS movies have TALKING ANIMALS?? That one will keep you twisted in thought for years!

    • Mike

      Obviously some of the posters here come from the alternative universe where the humor gene does not exist.

      • Kisha

        Really!I guess he should have used the sarcasm tag.I giggled just reading the headline and got it.Relax folks.

    • Altair

      Dude, stop shouting…

    • pastafarian

      Go outside and play for 15 minutes. No more computer privileges the rest of the day.

  • BrandonK

    This has been my issue with the Cars “universe” ever since the first one. It makes absolutely no sense! First, they’re cars…they’re expressly built to hold and move people. They have steering wheels and seats, etc. Secondly, how do they do anything? They have no hands! Some of the cars do things with their wheels or forklifts or whatever, but the drinks at the party, for instance…they’re just sitting there next to one of their tires. Nobody holds one. Third, who built these cars?! Who makes all their replacement parts? Fourth, if everything is bumped up in scale so that cars fit in buildings, wouldn’t (for example) London be four times the size it is in our world? Fifth, plane travel freaks me out a little…they’re inside a sentient plane! I guess it’s like a joey in a kangaroo? And how many cars fit inside a jet, anyway? Doesn’t seem very economically feasible.
    I’ve enjoyed the Cars movies, and I can suspend my disbelief for most of the movies, but when I think about all this stuff, it makes my brain hurt.

    • Sam

      The boat and jet thing weirded me out, too. Can cars own other sentient modes of transportation, like a boat or plane? Is this akin to servitude in some way? How do some cars get richer than others?

    • rob

      It bugged me on the first movie too. All pixar movies require suspension of disbelief, but this one went too far for my taste. Usually other movies make more of an attempt to be consistant and make some sort of sense….this one you really just can’t think about it at all without it’s logic crumbling.

      I liked this article, BTW…it’s funny, but it really is a valid criticism. I look forward to Brave, which should be better in that regard.

  • Jane Freud

    I don’t ever remember people being so hung up about this when the first movie came out. There’s 2 answers to this – A. It’s a kids movie. B. See A.

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