Animation can provide a fascinating window into the past. In the 1950s and 1960s, as cars became a fixture in contemporary life, animators made all kinds of films about automobile culture, exploring its history, its prevalence within society, its effect on human behavior, as well as its future possibilities and potential consequences. These films didn’t merely feature cars as plot devices, but made a satirical commentary on the institutions of driving and vehicle ownership.
Cars were on the minds of everyone during the mid-century, and animated shorts about them were produced by both mainstream studios and independent animators, as well as both in the United States and Europe. Many of the shorts, like Motor Mania, Automania 2000, and Autókor, offered a bleak perspective on car culture, while other films were bought-and-paid-for by corporations who had an interest in promoting automobiles: the Portland Cement Association sponsored Disney’s Magic Highway USA and Ford sponsored TVC London’s The Ever-Changing Motor Car.
These films are, of course, mostly valuable as historical markers. Today, as our environmentally-conscious world shifts into a post-auto culture, we worry less and less about the anxieties of driving and car ownership. The contemporary animator views cars through a different prism, one that is most effectively reflected in Pixar’s Cars. John Lasseter’s film no longer questions or considers the idea of the car, but rather offers a wistful nostalgic ode to the golden age of the automobile, a bygone era that can only be glimpsed by looking into the rear-view mirror.