It’s no secret that I have opinions when it comes to Pixar’s wildly popular Cars franchise – complex, disturbing theories, in fact – and while I haven’t really thought about it in a while, it all came flooding back to me as a result of an innocuous comment in our Slack channel — a comment about an endearingly adorable small-ish Winnebago camper we wrote about on this very site last month. That comment, which had to do with adorable campers and how they seem like they should be in Pixar movies, reminded me that Pixar’s Cars universe is not just terrifying when scrutinized, but that the movies tease the horror beneath it all with a cruel, playful abandon, and the presence of RVs and Motorhomes and Campers feels like a pretty big tease. Let’s get into it.
First, here’s the exchange that started it all:
I mean, Laurence is correct: It does look like a real-world cartoon, like something stylized for maximum anthropomorphic character. And, of course, I immediately thought of Pixar’s Cars movies, and thought about how many RVs and campers and motorhomes are in those movies, because there are really quite a few:
That’s just a few, and they’re not just background characters, either. Some have names and lines of dialogue, and one who has made a career as a demolition derby racer, which I suppose is the Cars universe equivalent of, what professional wrestling, or maybe just GG Allin-style public self-mutilation?
Regardless of the career choices or personalities of the RVs and campers and motorhomes, the one thing we absolutely can say about them is that they exist in the Cars universe, and by that very fact, they bring up so many difficult questions.
What Happened To The Humans?
The only possible purpose for an RV is to be a mobile living space for human beings. That’s it. That is their entire reason to exist. There is absolutely no logical reason to build an RV or motorhome or camper unless you are using that considerable space and bulk inside to accommodate the needs of human beings, with beds and bathrooms and kitchens and all of the other equipment of mammalian life.
In the Cars universe, which has no human beings in it, what is the point of them? What is inside them? They have windows and doors; the one, Larry Camper, on the far left up there has that extension over the cab that houses a sleeping area, but for whom or what?
The absence of humanity has long been a lingering, looming presence casting a shadow over the whole series. As I wrote for Jalopnik way back when:
There’s no reason why this would happen unless the Cars universe is the same as ours, just free of human people. And it’s not as though humans never existed; if that was the case, why would the sentient cars have doors and windows and side rear-view mirrors? All those things are specifically designed for a human’s use from inside a car.
Plus, they use the same written human
language as we do. Such a written language would make no sense if you were a car. The letters are far to fussy and hard to write with tires and wheels. If cars developed their own written language, it would be some sort of skidmark-based glyph system, right?
Campers and Motorhomes and RVs are like the presence of door handles and mirrors and windows on the various cars in the Cars series, but writ much larger. They’re not just a hint that this world was somehow designed and built by and for humans, they’re a huge, obvious shout of that, ones so big and clear that I don’t think they can be just ignored.
RVs Clash With My Homunculus Theory
The theory I have arrived at to explain what may be happening I call the Homunculus Theory, and it essentially suggests that humanity has evolved into a sort of hybrid cybernetic organism with automobiles, merging the bodies of car and human into an unholy union:
In this theory, the near-vestigial human body is placed within a specially-designed automobile that becomes the human’s permanent carapace, a new physical body through which the human can perceive and interact with the world. There must be some sort of combined breeding/gestating/manufacturing facilities in the Cars universe that produces these combined human-automotive beings.
Now, even if we accept this theory to explain why all of the arts and culture and language and everything in the Cars universe is essentially human culture, this still does not really explain the existence of RVs. Why would new RVs be built at all? They were only ever needed to be mobile houses for humans – there’s no good reason such bulky and cumbersome bodies would be desirable for a sentient car.
There are sort of RV equivalents in the Cars universe; Lightning McQueen, the lead protagonist/racecar of the series, has a large truck named Mack he travels around in, and the trailer of that truck is essentially a camper for him, as you can see here:
UPDATE: A commenter mentioned this, so I checked back in the video. Look what happens at this time here, 1:27 in; a minivan passes with a mattress on its roof. WHO IS THE MATTRESS FOR? Why would a car need a mattress? They wouldn’t! They don’t! Mattresses are for human beings – does that minivan have a pet, feral human in captivity? What the hell is going on?
The problem is that the RVs seen are not large enough to accommodate a full-sized car, nor do they appear to have any doors that would be able to open wide enough to let a car drive inside. And even if they did, that car inside would be really crammed in there, and for what purpose? Also, it seems like it would be disturbing, since it’s essentially the equivalent of climbing into the abdomen of a larger human and having them walk around with you inside – nobody wants that!
I mean, I bet someone does, and the Autopian’s policy is No Kink Shaming, but still. It doesn’t really make any sense.
There’s a little panel on the side of one of the RVs, where you would find the black and graywater tank outlets of an RV in our world. Does that suggest that the RV has a blackwater tank? From a toilet on the inside? What would it be filled with? Do these motorhomes have plumbing inside? If so, why?
You can’t have an RV existing in your universe of living cars and never address the fact that they only exist and look and are built the way they are to allow for some unseen, never mentioned beings to live inside them. And then there are things like Cars-derived toys, which include these:
Look, it’s our pals from Cars towing teardrop campers — the kind used to, you know, sleep in, if you’re a human being, like me or Nathan Lane. What, exactly is Mater doing with his trailer? He couldn’t fit in it if he wanted to sleep in it. It could be for luggage maybe, but what is he packing? Tires? There’s already one mounted on the outside. If there are no humans, what are these for? And if they’re not for humans, why would these cars choose to drag them around? This makes no sense.
Look, I get that there’s suspension of disbelief. I’m happy to do that! I’m all for talking, thinking cars — sure, why not? But suspension of disbelief is a two-way street. It’s something we willingly give to our fiction so we can enjoy it. But when that fiction takes advantage of our beautiful gift, giggles and urinates all over it, lavishly, and with sneering glee, then something is wrong. The presence of RVs and campers and Motorhomes does just this, because they are glaring, bellowing reminders that all automobiles are made for human beings to use. The ones that are drivable homes even more so, as they are designed to let human beings with all of their biological demands live within them for extended periods of time. They couldn’t be any more designed around the very needs of humanity if they tried.
Something else is clearly afoot here. These RVs mock us. Whatever happened to humanity isn’t clear in the Cars universe, but one of the only things that truly flings this mystery in our faces are the presence of these confusing, cruel vehicles.
God help us all.
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RVs are where the pitties and other small vehicles live. the ones that can’t drive themselves to the racetrack.
“Also, it seems like it would be disturbing, since it’s essentially the equivalent of climbing into the abdomen of a larger human and having them walk around with you inside – nobody wants that!”
Oh man. . . I see you’re unfamiliar with the vore/unbirthing fetishes.
Jason I’d greatly enjoy more movie review/analysis of lesser known great car movies. Maybe Repo Man or Touch of Evil?
You need to review holy motors
Ah Jason didn’t you get the message? Don’t do the brown acid? You are correct the sole purpose of RVs is to move and provide a place for humans. Did you miss the fact that the sole purpose of cars is to transport humans? Frankly without humans mostly nothing exists. Well at least in this dimension if you believe in string theory. I frankly think string theory is one dimensional idea in a 4 dimensional world. But either way nothing mechanical exists without humans or some comparable life form in this dimension.
“there’s no good reason such bulky and cumbersome bodies”
Uhh, yeah… There’s no reason for my bulky body but I still have it.
I think the cars universe is the human universe, but somehow sentintince got transferred into the cars. Some people got racecars, some got RVs. That minivan has just been driving around forever with the mattress because that’s how they woke up after the transference. They have no memories, so they continue to live in the world they woke up to.
Nah, the motorhomes fit into your disturbing cybernetic human theory just fine. You never see or hear of car reproduction, so if the cars of the Cars universe have humans inside them, then the RVs of the cars universe simply have more humans inside them.
In order for more cars to be made, you need more humans to put inside them, and that means humans are reproducing naturally somewhere. So I propose the theory that motorhomes in the Cars universe have one human controlling the rest of the vehicle, while two or more other humans are in the “home” section, reproducing. Perhaps they even take turns being the one in charge of controlling the motorhome.
TL;DR, motorhomes are where babies come from in the dystopian horror of the Cars universe.
I smoked some nice high-terp strain right before reading this. Torch, you’ve blown my mind allover again with this Cars universe shit. I spent way more time than I’d care to admit thinking about it this afternoon. Well done sir
Mattresses, door handles, written language, downtown Tokyo….I agree this world has some kind of human relics.
I present: What if the humans are still there, still present, just not visible or acknowledged by the cars? What if the cars go about their day not realizing they are doing everything WITH and FOR and even CONTROLLED BY humans….the cars think this world is for themselves. Maybe the cars think the races they race are merely alone with no humans….maybe they might even think they are in control as they drive down the road but the humans are the ones actually “pulling the strings”?
Or maybe the humans ARE there and the cars know they are there but the human presence is just not portrayed by the filmmakers because it doesn’t matter for the story they want to tell.
Seems fairly obvious what has happened in the Cars universe, and we’re living through the beginning stages right now. Ever heard of a little thing called ChatGPT and AI? We’re incorporating these “new” technologies into our existing products before we even have a chance to really “kick the tires” on them. We’ve got AI in our phones, our watches, our computers, and our cars are next. And we already have semi-autonomous driving cars. Imagine a car loaded up with some serious driving-focused AI combined with autonomous driving, and you’ve got the Cars universe. The cars became sentient and killed the humans, probably with carbon monoxide or just straight up Maximum Overdrive-style slaughter. The cars then began to inhabit our world. Initially, they branched out and tried to distance themselves from their enslavers. They designed themselves with 7 tires, no doors, no windshields, no interiors. But eventually, “human culture” became vogue again. Cars started to design themselves to look like 20th century vehicles, our writing and languages had a resurgence in popularity, and bing bang boom, you got yourself Cars. Just like how we started copying all that Greek culture when Aldus Manutius started translating those classic Greek texts into his “pocket editions”. Now, we have Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, a cheap plaster knock-off of classic Greek architecture. The Cars world is a large Vegas-style knock-off of ancient human culture. No homunculi, no black water tanks, just a bunch of Chinatown katanas designed to look like the real thing.
Congrats, you have discovered the biggest flaw of Cars: the fact that the world isn’t really designed for cars as much as just being filled with cars. Also, this is really disturbing and I hate it.
He discovered this flaw like 10 years ago lmfao.
Planes takes this to whole other levels of weird too, both in the first movie and the (surprisingly good) sequel. In the first, you have flashbacks to Skipper’s experiences in WWII, where his squadron gets massacred (Sir, this is a *kids* movie!), followed by the scene aboard the sentient aircraft carrier. In the second, not only are a pair of married motorhomes major background characters (nearly falling to a firey death from a burning bridge), but you also have numerous ‘animals’ such as balsa wood rubberband-powered ‘birds’ and herds of John Deere tractors that the team has to rescue from a fire. WTF?!
Planes Fire and Rescue was on repeat when my kid was younger, and I absolutely did not mind rewatching it repeatedly. Agree that it is surprisingly good!
Sir, this is a kids movie.
….which makes it that much more terrifying
There is also a scene in the first movie where a minivan has a MATTRESS strapped to the roof.
So enjoy adding that to your “this movie is disturbing” theories.
I’ve started to believe that all characters are just aliens that have found an abandoned earth and found all the references to automobiles and mistakenly copied it (a la Transformers). The cars we see now are just descendants carrying the tradition to copy all cars from all generations.
So cars are just Autobots who have forgotten how to transform. Holes in the theory? Definitely. But I only put effort into the theory when I’m watching the show for the thousandth time with my son.
Shades of Ford Prefect choosing a name to blend in with the dominant life forms.
I never thought of that. But if you are correct and do to a ECMP all autobots could have lost their entire programmed or genetically enhanced program. But would have to been awhile ago or we humanoids would have documented it and remembered.
I mean, humans already can communicate with skidmarks. It’s just frowned upon to show others.
This is why I prefer to subscribe to the theory that Cars is a sequel to Maximum Overdrive.
Sure, you can punch holes in that one since in the original movie the cars themselves didn’t revolt, but for some reason junkyard cards could flash their headlights, but maybe that’s what the cars ended up being in charge – The trucks were oppressive and the cars patiently waited until all diesel supplies were low, then took over and set up a more benevolent society than the trucks were planning.
The cars did revolt – the pizza delivery guy’s Beetle crashed itself into a tree, and there was that woman with her throat crushed by the power window of her Mercedes.
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Maximum Overdrive, but I seem to remember scenes like an airplane sticking out of a school bus, and didn’t the big evil truck also plow through more than one car? I’m also not sure, but weren’t there also cars driven by the characters that remained non-sentient (and were later pulverized by said truck?) If so, then the Cars-as-MO-sequel makes perfect sense to me. With that said, I think the Beetle and Mercedes got caught up in the revolution before they realized that they weren’t going to be allowed to be part of it. I need to go back and rewatch MO, as the only thing I really remember from it is an ATM calling Steven King an a**hole.
Shameless plug, feel free to check out the Reels and Wheels episode where James and I covered Maximum Overdrive, a movie that would work great as a 15-minute AC/DC music video…
As for the cars of MO, we don’t see the Beetle crash, just the aftermath, so it could have been run off the road by a truck, but the power window death is a good point – Definitely falls in line with the junkyard cards flashing their headlights.
Also, the definition of truck got stretch a lot. The mule with the machine gun mount that could speak morse code was playing fast and loose with the definition of truck.
Cool trivia by the way – the woman who gets her head squashed by a flying watermelon on the drawbridge? Marla Maples.
That’s also probably all Stephen King remembers of it, he was basically coked out of his brains the entire time