How Pixar screwed up cartoon cars for a generation of kids

Some things are too important to just accept. You must fight for your beliefs.

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Normally, I wouldn’t want to bring up something of this gravity during the holidays, but I have to take a firm stand on an issue that’s been bothering me for a long while. I’ve sat by long enough and did nothing while wrongs were committed, on greater and greater scales. But no more. Today I make my stand. Here goes:

The eyes of anthropomorphized cars are the headlights, not the windshield.

And there’s no exceptions here. Having a cartoon car with the eyes in the windshield is wrong, just wrong. And that includes you, too, Pixar. Sure, you’ve done some amazing things, made some incredible movies, but you’ve also ruined the concept of anthropomorphism in cars for a generation of children. Can they recover? Maybe. But it would take nothing short of a remake of Cars and Cars II to even begin to undo the damage.

Let’s back up a bit here, and just clarify what I’m talking about. By anthropomorphize I mean, of course, to make human— as in how in cartoons about cars, or car toys, or even just the way we look at cars we ascribe human traits to them, specifically reading their parts as features of a face. Our brains are programmed to do this automatically— we find faces in everything, as any Google search of a certain Mars landmark will tell you.


When we look at a car, we see the front end as a sort of face. They’re almost always bilaterally symmetrical, like a face, they have roughly the same number of general features, so it’s easy to ascribe eyes, mouth, and even sometimes a nose to the various components. Like I said, we’re really good at doing this. Consider the simple emoticon — :-) — and you’ll see what I mean. We see faces in everything.


I’ll reluctantly give a pass to some very early cartoons about cars — like Tex Avery’s One Cab’s Family — because at that time not all cars had headlights. But that’s it. Everything after that that places eyes in the windshield when there’s a perfectly good pair of headlight eyes there is just doing it wrong. And it’s wrong conceptually, as well as visually. The windshield is what we, the drivers, look through— it’s just empty glass. Headlights aren’t eyes, of course, but in general structure they sure as hell resemble eyeballs more than a sheet of laminated glass. On split windshields, the windshield eyes make a bit more sense, but even so, the number of cars with a split windshield is pretty minimal.

Perhaps in something like Cars, they wanted to make the windshield have the eyes to help avoid the sticky issue of where all the people are. The Cars universe is entirely populated by sentient cars. Okay, I’ll buy that. But then that does bring up sticky questions like, why do they have seats? Or steering wheels or door handles or dashboards or pedals or anything like that? Hell, for that matter, why do they have windows at all? Or even greenhouses? Shouldn’t they just be low rectangular, doorless slabs? See, that’s no argument for windshield eyes.


Plus, if the eyes are in the windshield, what do you do with the lights? Ignore them? Pretend they’re just two evenly sized, symmetrical moles? Growths? It’s just weirder if you try to ignore them, giving the car a sort of two-faced effect, which is creepy and afflicted pretty much every car in Cars.

Even cars with covered lights work — just pop the lights open and you’re good. Quad headlights, too— even when there’s four of them, the headlights still read like eyes, way more so than the windshield.


I’m so adamant about this because, now that I have a kid, he has lots of anthropomorphized toy cars. About half do it right, with headlights as eyes, and half are making the inane mistake. I don’t want him brought up like that. I want him to go out into the world, look at a car’s front end, and see a friendly face, or a determined face, or an angry face, or whatever kind of face. It’s fun. If he’s trained to think he has to see eyes in a windshield for a car to have a face, then that requires a specially modified car, and that’s only provided by some entertainment corporation as some promotional thing, looking to make a buck. We can’t let them take our car faces away from us.


Look at that picture of that Austin-Healey Sprite there. If you don’t see those headlights as the eyes of that car’s friendly, in-your-face face, then you’re either an alien or lying or both. You big lying alien, from some weirdo planet where you see out of a featureless panel in your forehead. Gross, don’t even try to mate with me. Get back to your stupid planet, and take these DVDs of Cars II with you.


This story was originally published on December 26, 2011.