When aliens visit Earth, they naturally assume cars run the world. It’s not such an outlandish idea anymore.

An alien spacecraft hovers above Earth. But before it lands, the super-intelligent creatures on board want to know what they’re getting into. So they carefully observe what they assume is the dominant life form on the planet: the car.

This extraterrestrial reconnaissance mission is the subject of an adorable animated short film made in 1966 by the National Film Board of Canada and brought to our attention by at NextSTL, a website promoting smart development in St. Louis, Missouri. Here’s how the film board describes this Oscar-nominated film, called “What on Earth! The Automobile Inherits the Planet”:  

This animated short proposes what many earthlings have long feared—that the automobile has inherited the planet. When life on Earth is portrayed as one long, unending conga-line of cars, a crew of extra-terrestrial visitors understandably assume they are the dominant race. While humans, on the other hand, are merely parasites.

The film is a 50-year-old commentary on the dominance of cars in our lives, but it’s still relevant today. As Edward Humes recently wrote in The Atlantic:

The car is the star. That’s been true for well over a century—unrivaled staying power for an industrial-age, pistons-and-brute-force machine in an era so dominated by silicon and software. Cars conquered the daily culture of American life back when top hats and child labor were in vogue, and well ahead of such other innovations as radio, plastic, refrigerators, the electrical grid, and women’s suffrage.

The idea that cars might be self-sufficient entities independently navigating the planet isn’t just cute satire anymore; with the advent of driverless vehicles, it’s a real possibility. In one 10-minute visual package, this film is both a stark reminder of the persistent primacy of automobiles and a prediction of what that could look like in the near future.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    With Trains Like Schwebebahn, No Wonder Germans Love Public Transit

    Infrastructure like this makes it clear why Germany continues to produce enthusiasm for public transit, generation after generation.

  2. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  3. Design

    Ray Bradbury's Vision of the Dystopian City

    As early as 1951, the late author feared America's cities would become places where someone taking a simple walk down the street would be greeted with suspicion.

  4. A photo of a visitor posing for a photo with Elvis in downtown Nashville
    Perspective

    Cities: Don’t Fall in the Branding Trap

    From Instagram stunts to Edison bulbs, why do so many cities’ marketing plans try to convince people that they’re exactly like somewhere else?

  5. A photo of a new car dealership
    Transportation

    Subprime Auto Loans Are Turning Car Ownership Into a Trap

    A record 7 million Americans are three months late on their car payments, revealing what could be cracks in the U.S. economy.