What on Earth!

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What on Earth!
Directed by Kaj Pindal
Les Drew
Produced by Robert Verrall
Wolf Koenig
Written by Kaj Pindal
Narrated by Donald Brittain
Music by Donald Douglas
Distributed by National Film Board of Canada
Columbia Pictures
Running time
09 min 35 s
Country Canada

What on Earth! (French: La Terre est habitée![1]) is a 1966 National Film Board of Canada animated short co-directed by Les Drew and Kaj Pindal. The film is a mockumentary, introduced in its opening credits as produced by the "National Film Board of Mars"[2] that takes a humorous look at car culture from the point of view of fictional Martians, who mistake automobiles for Earth's true inhabitants and people as their parasites. It attempts to examine the sociology of the automobile as the dominant species on earth, and makes wild guesses about the lifestyle, feeding habits, mating habits and funeral rites of this "species."[3]


The film shows the earth from the view of the Martian flying machines which did not land but used cameras to film earth society. It then follows one average (what it believes to be) earthling and its civilization, by in effect showing a "day in the life" and how they live it. First, it shows one going through dinner with a precisely regulated feeding (vehicle refueling from a gas pump), then it must take its rest (pulling into an attached garage next to a house), because it will have a busy day the next day.

The next morning it shows a large number of earthlings (cars) out traveling on roads and highways. The earthlings apparently do not tolerate long interruptions in their fast life, as slowdowns cause significant complaints (honking) until the problem is fixed when a worker arrives (a traffic jam is solved by a group of construction vehicles "eat" a mountain to open the roadway and cover a chasm to build a new bridge). The presence of lots of earthlings (vehicles) in traffic is presumed to be the need for companionship. But if their desire for companionship and dancing is interrupted, social directors who never leave their post (traffic signals) will instruct them.

With this fun causes exhaustion (tow trucks pulling cars.) There is a steady run on spas and health centers (car washes and repair shops). Libraries (road signs and billboards) and audio-visual centers (drive-in theaters) are readily available. When they become too old, earthlings move to retirement centers (used car lots), and then, when it is time, earthlings perform their final act, where they are assisted in performing euthanasia (are crushed at a wrecking yard), so that they can reproduce. Earthlings have eliminated sex, and reproduce (in secret) in three or four large birthing centers (car factories). The film makes a wild guess at what they think happens there, which, never having been inside, is completely wrong. At this point, "a newborn earthling, fully grown, is ready for its place in society."

Despite their advancement, the earthlings have not eliminated the parasites that infest them (human beings) but they are working on eradicating their nests (tearing down buildings). The film ends with the Martians hope that they will soon be able to actually send visitors to meet with the earthlings.


The film was first proposed at the NFB by Pindal in December 1963, with the working title Automation, with the intention of showing how "in spite of appearances, man is the master in the automated world." The working title would become Martians, before the final title What on Earth! was chosen. Drew was brought in to work on the film in 1965 and 1966, with Brittain assigned to write narration. Pindal's original idea of "man as the master" is not reflected in the final version of the film, and NFB archivist and blogger Albert Ohayon believes Brittain may have been responsible for this key change.[4]


What on Earth! was completed in late 1966 and shown to distributors including Columbia Pictures, which purchased international theatrical rights in January 1967. The film received several film festival awards, including at the International Festival of Science Fiction in Trieste, Italy. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 40th Academy Awards.[4][5]

Following a successful theatrical run, the film was sold to approximately 30 networks around the world, beginning in 1969. TV sales included CBC-TV in Canada and the ABC TV network in the US. The ABC sale was for seven animated shorts, including Walking, Cosmic Zoom and Hot Stuff, and marked the first time NFB films had been sold to a major American television network. The films aired on ABC in the fall of 1971 as part of the children's television show Curiosity Shop, executive produced by Chuck Jones.[4]


  1. ^ "La Terre est habitée!" (in French). National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  2. ^ Thought, Volume 21, Issues 1-26, Page ccxii
  3. ^ "What on Earth!". Collection. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Ohayon, Albert (June 8, 2012). "What on Earth: Science fiction satire at its funniest". NFB.ca Blog. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved June 8, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Meet the Panelists:Kaj Pundal". Take Two Film Festival. Orangeville, ON. Archived from the original on 27 February 2010. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 

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