Fri
Jun 22 2012 10:00am

Cars 2 Loves You, No Mater What

Pixar Movie Marathon: Cars 2 Loves You, No Mater What

Cars 2 is probably nobody’s favorite Pixar movie. It is the easiest to shrug off, anyway, a sequel to the other Pixar movie that is nobody’s favorite and a critical flop besides. Of course when I say “nobody” I am talking about us grown-ups, so maybe I am completely wrong. After all, Pixar movies are children’s movies, a fact that we totally understand but not really. As grown-ups we have decided that a Pixar movie has responsibilities: it must have a complexity, it must not insult our intelligence, it must be beautiful. We must be able to go see it with our other grown-up friends, no children in tow, and we must not feel like total weirdos. And you know what? It feels a little weird, as a grown-up, to watch an animated movie about a redneck tow truck who fights crime.

Because Cars 2 is a spy movie! Sort of! Actually it’s more of a Get Smart situation, a bumbling bumbler who manages to foil the bad guys in spite of himself. The bumbler in question is the tow truck Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. Mater is a buck-teeth-and-rust-spot yokel whose actual personality is mistaken as well-crafted deep cover by two British agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Mater is dense but good-hearted, thick but wholly devoted to his very best friend ever, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). And I keep saying he’s dumb because the movie does, too, shows you over and over how poor are his social cues, how ugly the American. He has streaks of a savant—his knowledge of engines is unparalleled, and useful to the plot—but also he mistakes wasabi for pistachio ice cream.

 And it is on this divide that Cars 2 hangs its lesson. McQueen takes Mater to an overseas race and immediately regrets it, cringing at his friend’s every intercontinental blunder. When he rejects Mater, because of course he does (something something Mater inadvertently screws up McQueen’s first race something), Mater doesn’t even fight back. Instead he retreats, gets out of his best friend’s way with his big eyes blinking. McQueen regrets his behavior almost immediately, because of course he does. Rejecting Mater is like rejecting an overexcited puppy who never did anything except be himself. If you’re friends with someone, pleads the movie, aren’t you supposed to stay friends no matter what? If you love how your friend is freewheeling and fun and comfortable with himself, then why would you turn against him the second he doesn’t know how to use the Japanese toilets?

If you’re starting to feel a little uncomfortable, I don’t blame you. Mater is after all played by Larry the Cable Guy, that terrifying embodiment and/or exploitation of the working-class Southern United States. Mr. Cable Guy’s carefully crafted trailer trash persona (his cover, if you will) has been turned kid-friendly and then tipped straight into Mater’s dented frame. What we’re left with is a dumb guy who loves life and trusts everyone, and so if you’re going to be mad about Mater being the hero of this movie, you’re forced to be mad about a guy who loves life and trusts everyone. There’s nothing high-minded about him, and in fact there is nothing particularly high minded about Cars 2. While Up had that whole sequence at the beginning that made everyone cry about love and mortality and whatever, Cars 2 has “dag gum!” and a lot of car chases. But: is that even so bad? Is McQueen’s shame in fact the shame of the grown-up Pixar fan?

It would help, of course, if the spy portion of the movie were a little less convoluted. There’s a thing about a former oil tycoon (Eddie Izzard!) who is now promoting alternative energy via this World Grand Prix, and also there is this evil professor named Zündapp who is working with these crime families made up of terrible cars (THE LEMONS), also McQueen has a Formula One enemy (John Turturro!) and the Queen is there (Vanessa Redgrave!) and the thing is packed with fight scenes and races. The fight scenes are actually kind of fun; they’re gleeful and ridiculous and overall more delightful than the film that surrounds them. And then something happens, and then something else happens, and Mater is both accidentally helpful and actually helpful to the British agents, and eventually he and McQueen make up and the world gets saved, I don’t know.

Like its protagonist, Cars 2 is not a particularly clever movie. Much of the humor is derived from thin globetrotting stereotypes, like isn’t it amusing to see Italian cars bicker and offer McQueen more to eat. And as sequels go, it’s not much of one, shortchanging existing characters in service of the Mater plot. Some of that is by necessity—McQueen’s mentor, Doc Hudson, was played in the first movie by the late Paul Newman—and some of it just seems short-sighted. Of course, a sequel wants to be bigger and wants to travel and wants to blow up a lot of things, but we don’t want to see just anyone do it, we want to see our favorite characters do it. With respect to agents McMissile and Shiftwell, what could Cars 2 have been if it had been Radiator Springs v.  The Bad Guys? 

So Cars 2 is nobody’s favorite Pixar movie, except for someone, it probably is. It did almost twice as well overseas as it did domestically (where perhaps gross Southern stereotyping outweighs the rest); it’s both merchandise, video game, and theme park friendly; and honestly it has a good heart. So it’s no Ratatouille or Toy Story 3, so maybe Mater isn’t for you, but he is for somebody. Some kid who needs to know that being a good person doesn’t have anything to do with being shiny or fast or worldly (even the villains of the piece are only mad because they’ve been underestimated their whole lives). Reject it if you must, but don’t be cruel about it. The least of Pixar is better than most, and to be honest, that bit with the wasabi is pretty funny.


Meghan Deans also laughed pretty hard at “Brent Mustangburger.” She Tumbls and is @meghandrrns.

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16 comments
Jettoki
1. Jettoki
This has always reminded me of Phantom Menace and how, for a lot of kids, it's the best Star Wars movie. No matter how much you want them to like ESB, you don't get to pick what your kids like.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
2. Lisamarie
Is McQueen’s shame in fact the shame of the grown-up Pixar fan? - bwahahahaha, that made me laugh.

I actually haven't seen this one OR Cars (I'm not that into cars in general so it never appealed to me) but I'm on a quest to round out my Pixar collection. And actually, I'll probably like this one because it sounds silly and fluffy and sometimes that's the kind of thing I'm in the mood for. It seems like if you go into it just wanting a popcorn movie, it will be fun. I am sure there are many legitimate criticisms to be had and I don't blame anybody for not liking it, of course.

I also did not realize Owen Wilson was the voice of Lightning McQueen - I only really know him from Zoolander, but that amuses me.

I didn't grow up in the south, but I did grow up lower middle class, so...I have a soft spot for the working class yokel kind of character.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
3. Lisamarie
Oh, and since somebody mentioned Phantom Menance. I'm a big Star Wars fanatic, and you know what? I like Phantom Menace. There, I admitted it. I know it's cool to be super jaded and cynical about George Lucas and everything he does nowadays (and I do shake my head in wonder at some of the things he does and the way he is so insistent on altering the original movies) but I loved Phantom Menace when it came out (I was 16) and I still enjoy it now. My husband and I even had a date night when it came out on 3D this past winter and we had fun.

I totally accept that it is just not the same as the original trilogy and that those are truly a class by themselves...but I still think it has some good Star Wars moments (I'm a huge Ian McDiarmid fan, at any rate), and at the time I thought I was going to be a microbiologist so I thought the concept of the midichlorians was pretty awesome (I know this is a minority opinion). As for Jar Jar, he actually doesn't irritate me as much as Jake Lloyd does, and while I could easily do without him and I do cringe at some of the jokes, when I took my little sister (then about 3 or 4) to see the movie she LOVED him and quoted him CONSTANTLY. So, it was kind of hard to be jaded about it when she clearly got so much joy out of it.

Now, yes, there is something to be said for being able to write such things that can appeal on multiple levels, or at least without alienating your older fan base, so I am not defending it as a perfect movie or saying that you can't be a Star Wars fan if you don't think all of them are the greatest movies on earth (which seems to be the other extreme in the fandom). Just that comment 1 resonates with me a bit :) I think it IS a good analogy for this movie - usually Pixar movies ARE able to reach that higher level, but every now and then you get something like this, but it can still be fun for some people.
A.J. Bobo
4. Daedylus
This isn't my favorite Pixar movie, but I do think it's a ton of fun. I recently took a road trip with my family and my 3 year old son wanted to watch this over and over and over again throughout the entire trip. So I've seen it twice, I think, but I've now heard it at least a dozen times. It actually gets funnier to me every time.

The biggest thing that hit me on that drive was that there's really nothing wasted in the movie. Everything from the pistacho ice cream to Mater's repeated "dag gum" all make up part of the plot. I also love that Mater actually, legitimatly figures out who the bad guy is and what his plan is. He doesn't stumble into the solution - he deduces it. He's not as dumb as everyone thinks he is. At least about some things.
Matthew Soddy
5. Jexral
I'm with @4 up there.

I lived with a couple of kids for a long time who LOVED the first movie, and, so, watched it roughly ten billion times. I sat through it more than once, and I enjoyed it more and more with every watching. There are a lot of little things in that movie, moments that are easy to miss. And of course, yes, there are a lot of problems with it, too, but it is and remains a solid outing on pixar's part.

Onto part 2: This movie has all the charm of the first one. Also, it has all of the problems of the first one, amped up a few notches. However, it is still a genuinely enjoyable movie, and it has one of my favorite scenes in any pixar film. The scene with the museum. I don't remember exactly what was said, but there is a small moment for Paul Newman that, for me, would allow me to forgive any of the movie's problems.

Hell, if an absurdly brilliant first ten minutes can get me to forgive the rest of Up, then seems like that should be enough for Cars 2.
Jettoki
6. rusk_dorsett@msn.com
John Lassiter is a car fiend. He loves automobiles. That is why we have Cars and Cars 2. Plus, little boys love cars, toy cars. These films keep the Cars merchandise flying off the shelf. It is a huge moneymaker for Pixar, not by box office so much as by merchandise. They just opened Radiator Springs at The California Adventure Park...Cars is here to stay.
Jettoki
7. Tehanu
My 4-year-old grandson loves both the Cars movies and Mater is by far his favorite character. I'm not the target audience, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by Cars 2 -- even with the cliche spies, Italians, Germans, the Queen, etc. It certainly wouldn't be on my favorites list, but it was an okay afternoon at the movies and I came out thinking, "That really was kind of fun."
Jettoki
8. Stefan Jones
A weekend or two ago, the original Cars ran on one of the networks. This means I could -- and did -- record it in HD on my DVR.

I started watching it yesterday. The sillyness that made it an "meh" entry for me was still there, but so were the lovely, lovely, lovely midwestern / western landscapes, and the Radiator Springs "sets."

I caught, yesterday, a brief glimpse of the powerline-sitting birds from that long-ago Pixar short, as McQueen's transport truck zooms along I-80. And realized that the craggy peaks to the east of Radiator Springs are the tail ends of old Caddilacs.

Even if the movie is mostly for kids, how can you not respect that level of craftsmanship?

When it appears on network TV a few years from now, I'll record and watch Cars 2, just to pay attention to the craft.
Scott Silver
9. hihosilver28
My issue with Cars 2 lies largely in the theme of the movie and in the tone. Yes, Mater does love life and everyone, but there is a certain amount of tact required in life. The movie blatantly says "We should just love and accept our friends for who they are, even if they make life miserable due to their self-absorbed natures. It's not their fault and they shouldn't change." I also thought that the violence, torture, and death were a little odd for the movie, especially one rated G.
Chuk Goodin
10. Chuk
@4; that is a good point about Mater's solution that I hadn't considered before. (I still don't like Mater much and I also think McQueen was really too impatient with him.)
I did enjoy the beginning spy stuff with Finn McMissle though.
Jettoki
11. sjwood
This review is far too kind. This movie is terrible and worse than much of the weaker out put of far lesser studios. For the first time Pixar released a movie with no artistic intent and as such there is zero passion in the telling of its story. They made this movie because those toy cars made them billions. That's it and that's sad.
And the message of this movie is completely nosensical. So basically, it's okay to be a simple person ... so long as your still kind of a genius when it comes to other things. Great. So Mater's a dumb shit, but that's okay because he knows about cars so that means he still has value. It's just convoluted and doesn't quite mean anything.
And now we have a Monster's Inc. sequel coming out. Sorry, scratch that. It's a prequel. The most pointless form of movie making there is.
Unfortunately, I don't think Cars 2 is an anomaly, I think it's the future. Just another DreamWorks like assembly line.
Jettoki
12. AlBrown
Never seen this one, because I didn't much care for the first Cars. Doesn't mean it is bad, though. I learned long ago that I am not the center of the universe, and that me not liking something doesn't necessarily mean it is bad. Wish more people realized that...
Melissa Shumake
13. cherie_2137
haven't seen cars 2 and hadn't really had any intention of watching it, until the reviewer mentioned that EDDIE IZZARD voices one of the new characters. this seems like a very good reason to go rent this movie.

also, @11- the monsters inc prequel looks awesome. you just sound grumpy, and like maybe you didn't have very much fun at college.
Jettoki
14. huntece
12-ditto

13- lol
Jettoki
15. yanjuna
Actually, it's my son (8 years old)'s favorite Pixar movie. I thought it was amusing and pretty good myself. (Not my favorite, though). It was modelled after Roger Moore era James Bond movies, and I took it (and enjoyed it) as one of the better Roger Moore James Bond movies (without the sex).
Charles Gaston
16. parrothead
Not being into cars, I haven't seen either one. Therefore I can't actually have an opinion on them. Yet I do! I know, I'm (to use TVTropes terms) Complaining About Shows You Don't Watch, but there's just so much wrong with these. The fact that millions of people when they hear the name McQueen will think of this movie and not Steve McQueen (which Wikipedia informs me was not the inspiration for the name). The fact that it has carefully crafted and marketed offensive stereotype Larry the Cable Guy (not actually from the South). Sure, it looks nice, but even that is part of the problem: style over substance, a glut of celebrity voices instead of interesing stories...wow, I just described the last 10 years of Simpsons episodes. Which is another rant entirely.

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