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Dystopian Cartoon of the Day: When Cars Ruled the World

And humans were just tiny little parasites, trying to hitch a ride.

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What on Earth!

The year was 1966, and enthusiasm for urban renewal was waning. Senator Abraham Ribicoff, of Connecticut, pleaded for a greater emphasis on the individual in municipal tear-outs. New York's great planner of the era, Robert Moses, had begun to lose battles to preservationists.

Angst for the age of the automobile was in the air, and few pieces capture that quite like What on Earth!, which was nominated for Best Short Film at the Academy Awards that year. Apparently, the Danish animator Kaj Pindal had intended to make a film showing that “in spite of appearances, man is the master in the automated world," for the National Film Board of Canada. Perhaps it was the influence of co-director Les Drew, but the end result is considerably more cynical.

Nevertheless, the film is classic Pindal: simple, charming, and whimsical animation. (You can watch a great documentary about Kaj Pindal from 1979 here.) The plot? Martians looking at earth determine that its dominant species is the car.

If nothing else, watch the Rube Goldberg sequence that begins at 5:25. Also, there's a twist at the end...

What on Earth! by Les Drew & by Kaj Pindal, National Film Board of Canada

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.