Racing superstar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is again a box office pace setter in Cars 3, making Pixar’s animated franchise 3-for-3 in winning its opening weekends since its rookie year in 2006. Its successful return also renews a popular sport on the internet, namely raising and pondering all sorts of problematic questions about the nature of Cars‘ fictional universe, in which humans are MIA and sentient vehicles seem to exist in a mirror-version of contemporary Earth. In honor of the release of Cars 3, we present five of these fan theories about the trilogy. Gentlemen and women, start your conjecture.
The cars have been left behind by humanity
In 2013, movie writer Jon Negroni concocted “The Pixar Theory,” a sprawling stab at proving that all of the studio’s films were part of one interconnected universe — and, in fact, could be viewed as chapters of a chronologically ordered larger storyline. To recount Negroni’s entire theory would take far too long here. However, with regard to Cars, it maintains that, after humanity departed Earth aboard the Axiom (the ship in WALL-E), the cars were left behind and — having grown sentient like WALL-E himself — they assumed the personalities of their departed owners. While WALL-E argued that humans had ditched the planet because of environmental ruin, Negroni surmises that their real motivation might have been overcrowding, and that the Earth’s future trash-heap decay was the result of the Cars’ over-consumption of natural resources (a crisis hinted at in Cars 2).
The cars are bugs
In the video below, MatPat of Film Theorists begins with, and then rejects, the idea that the cars are actually advanced artificial intelligence-powered machines run by a program created by The Incredibles‘ villain Syndrome. Instead, he contends that the cars are living organic creatures (metallic exoskeletons, gooey interiors) — evidenced by the fact that they eat, drink, breathe, and get hiccups. Then, taking things one great leap further, he claims this means the cars are actually “highly evolved insects.” And not just any old insects — they’re the descendants of the chatty critters of A Bug’s Life, making the Cars franchise a sequel to that 1998 hit.
The cars have eradicated humanity
Jay Ward, creative director of the Cars franchise and author of the internal Pixar document “The World of Cars Owner’s Manual,” posited his own creation myth for the series’ characters earlier this year. This, he stressed, was his own personal theory, and not Pixar canon. He told Matt Singer at Screen Crush:
“If you think about this, we have autonomous car technology coming in right now. It’s getting to the point where you can sit back in the car and it drives itself. Imagine in the near-future when the cars keep getting smarter and smarter and after one day they just go, ‘Why do we need human beings anymore? They’re just slowing us down. It’s just extra weight, let’s get rid of them.’ But the car takes on the personality of the last person who drove it. Whoa. There you go.”
Then again, he subsequently seems to kinda-sorta refute himself by confirming that the Cars have brains and organs — meaning they’re more than just sentient singularity Terminators designed to eradicate mankind. They’re alive.
The cars inherited their human personalities after a meteor strike
In the same Screen Crush interview, Ward forwards a Pixar colleague’s alternative theory, in which mankind is wiped out by space debris (in a kind of dinosaur-level extinction event). Because of some supernatural properties in said meteor, dying humans’ minds (and souls) are transferred to their vehicles, thus explaining why McQueen, Mater, and the rest of their automotive brethren are so similar to us:
“[Cars 3 production designer] Jay Shuster did a great drawing a long time ago of a meteor hitting the earth,” Ward said. “And all the humans are gone and all of a sudden the cars start rising up and moving around.”
The cars are human
In the craziest — and scariest — theory of all, Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky argues that the reason cars are like humans (in expression, emotion, language, culture, landmarks, etc.) is that they’re housing actual humans inside them. And he’s not talking about drivers; these people have, in the aftermath of an unknown global calamity, merged with their vehicles, in some sort of David Cronenberg-ian new-flesh sort of way. Think Mad Max: Fury Road by way of The Matrix by way of Videodrome, and you’ll have a sense of Torchinsky’s theory — which, handily, comes with detailed diagrams about how this grotesque man-machine symbiosis works.
See what the stars of ‘Cars 3’ think about what happened to humans:
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