Modern Car-Toons: A Look At Autos In Mid-Century Animation

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.

Green Light Go!

Motor Mania (USA, Disney, 1950) directed by Jack Kinney

Car of Tomorrow (USA, MGM, 1951) directed by Tex Avery

There Auto Be A Law (USA, Warner Bros., 1953) directed by Robert McKimson

Four Wheels No Brakes (USA, UPA, 1955) directed by Ted Parmelee

The Jaywalker (USA, UPA, 1956) directed by Bobe Cannon

Magic Highway USA (USA, Disney, 1958) directed by Ward Kimball

Automania 2000 (UK, Halas & Batchelor, 1963) directed by John Halas

Autókor (Hungary, Pannonia Film Studio, 1964) directed ‪by István Imre and ‪László‬ ‪Réber

Ever-Changing Motor Car (UK, TVC London, 1965) directed by George Dunning and Alan Ball

Mr. Rossi Buys a Car (Italy, Bozzetto Productions, 1966) directed by Bruno Bozzetto

What on Earth! (Canada, NFB, 1966) directed by Les Drew and Kaj Pindal


  • http://matthunterross.com Matt Hunter Ross

    Hate cars, but love this post. Avery’s spot and Magic Highway are still the epitome to me, but they’re all so good.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Great post!

    Reminded of one of Czech animator Zdenek Miler’s “Mole” cartoons from the early 60′s where he gets himself a car to drive around in.
    http://www.kratkyfilm.com/catalogue/html/51.htm

  • the Gee

    “…other films were bought-and-paid-for by corporations who had an interest in promoting automobiles…”

    There were tons of those. Just think of the petroleum industries campaigns.

    Isn’t there also a Chevrolet short featuring Peg-Leg Pete?
    Another one (or two) centered around Cinderella.

    Then there’s the one about the Martian who comes to Earth and discovers how bad drivers are here? (that one is as funny as it is conceptually weird)

    For some reason Art Blakey and his band come to mind either for the aforementioned cartoon or for another one about drivers.

    (yes, i could look up these things but….)

    I’ll write Happy New Year! instead.

    There’s tons of productions that were commissioned.

  • http://www.ihateyouredlight.com M.R. Horhager

    This is what I love about Cartoonbrew! Posts such as these expose us to the past and help to inform and influence future conversation. Many of these films (along with Mr. Amidi’s book, CARTOON MODERN) greatly influenced our film I HATE YOU RED LIGHT.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNqaDdwnQJs
    Thanks guys!

  • http://www.segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    I love posts like this, Those are excellent examples, there is always something new to discover. My Favorite is the Film Board of canada cartoon What on Earth! (1967) by Les Drew, Kaj Pindal (this is probably the Martian cartoon The Gee is referring to). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIgmZZAEmEM and The Chevy cartoons were made by Jam Handy Organization, a typical entry is A Coach for Cinderella (1936). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIBZEJe6sv0 (Thanks to the Brew for bringing them to my attention years ago)
    A favorite of mine for personality animation is the Disney classic Susie the Little Blue Coupe
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYOiVSsr1KM

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      Steve, Thank you so much for reminding me of What on Earth! That’s an essential one for this list of modern/satirical commentaries about cars. I’ve gone ahead and added it.

      • http://www.segaltoons.com Steve Segal

        Happy to oblige. That NFBC link doesn’t work for me.

        • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

          The NFB player is sometimes funky. If it’s not working, try reloading the page, or watching directly on their site.

    • the Gee

      That wasn’t the one I was thinking of.

      Stop Driving Us Crazy (1959?) is the one I had in mind.

      The sound in that is horrible. It was actually produced by a church group–go figure. From what little I know of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, collaborating on such a project wasn’t odd.

      Look for a better version though.

      (and since when did youtube require secure connections to its site??)

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Speaking of Disney, there’s “The Story of Anyburg, USA.” with the car on trial for it’s crimes, or the two Goofy films in the mid 60′s, “Freewayphobia” and “Goofy’s Freeway Troubles”. These films of course convey the troubles of careless drivers and the safety rules that need to be abide to.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5boGuW46Glc
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjZR7sWMSAo
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUrD0MEUMFk

  • James

    There’s also the Looney Tune “There Auto Be A Law” that satirizes automobile culture and tho modern freeway system.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRxPTKoC93E

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      As a Warner Bros. aficionado, I am ashamed to say I’d never seen that McKimson short. Added it to the list above for a total of 10 shorts. Thanks, James!

  • http://www.natetheis.com Nate

    This is a great post! I’ve always had an affinity towards many of these films, even when I was a kid. In fact, I’ve been working on a short film partially inspired by them. Hopefully, I’ll finally get it done in 2013.

  • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

    I didn’t intend to make this an exhaustive account of every single satirical ‘cartoon modern’ auto-related short. It would be hard to do that since this was such a common cultural topic during that period. Still, I couldn’t resist adding the UPA short Four Wheels No Brakes. That cartoon is unique for its pointed jabs at car salesmen and mechanics and really deserves to be in this roundup. I’m done for now.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I appreciated that cartoon as well Amid, thanks!

  • http://bakertoons.blogspot.com/ Charles A. Brubaker

    These car films are neat.

    Have you considered making this a semi-regular feature? Maybe once a month you can do a roundup of cartoons about cars.

    • http://animationhardtofind.blogspot.com GW

      I think you’ve got the generally right idea, but why just about cars? Why not various subjects?

  • http://lifeincartoonmotion.org Tünde

    Busy researching I see… :-) Awesome! Especially the Laszlo Reber animation – he’s my absolute favorite illustrator of all times and I read about it in his lifeworks book but just couldn’t find it. So, hooray!