Unlike most adults who went to see Cars 2 this weekend, I was there for one reason and one reason alone: To count how many planes, trains and automobiles kicked the can (for the record, it was eight cars and one very unfortunate boat.)
But, while I wasn’t in tow with a sugared-up youngster wearing full-on Lightning McQueen gear, I can safely say I wasn’t the only grown-up having a tough time getting through the flick. To be fair, it wasn’t for lack of eye-popping scenery or adult-friendly jokes (the nods at Japanese culture were pretty inspired) because they had plenty of that to go around…and around…and around…
Rather, it was sitting through a sequel that followed sweet, but dopey sidekick tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, in excessive Southern drawl) around the globe for a series of misunderstandings (he’s mistaken for an American spy!) and hyuck-hyuck scenarios (he mistakes Wasabi for pistachio ice cream!) that tested some mom’s and dad’s good humor. You can practically hear the groans from adults sitting through that growing louder than a revving engine, no?
So, what’s the issue here? It’s not as though Pixar hasn’t had a well-meaning, dim-bulb pal (or as Mater described himself in Cars 2, “average intelligence”) before. You needn’t look further than Finding Nemo‘s Dory to make that argument. But, whereas Mater is oblivious to most everything outside of his world and is almost too enthusiastic about his buddy Lightning McQueen, to the point of overbearing, Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory was brave and daring, not to mention a sage philosopher (“Just keep swimming” is deep, in so many ways.) Now, before we get into a red state, blue state argument, really ask yourself here, would you rather watch a movie almost entirely about Dory or Mater? It is, forgive me, sort of a no-brainer.
New York Times critic A.O. Scott made an interesting comparison in his Cars 2 review in which he likened the nearly-insufferable Mater to the far more maligned Jar Jar Binks. As Scott put it, “Pixar has now found its redneck Jar-Jar Binks.” While some people may take offense, he’s not entirely far off. For many, Pixar, much like Star Wars, is untouchable greatness and Jar Jar and Mater have both, in their own way, sullied something once seen as infallible. Or does most of the frustration simply come down to the fact that Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen — arguably the biggest draw of the movie — was all but left in the dust by the Mater-centric plot line of Cars 2?
Will future generations just pretend like Mater never happened or get as angry as Star Wars purists who can’t even say the Phantom Menace creature’s name without shuddering? It’s doubtful, considering nothing is more hated in the history of pop culture than Jar Jar Binks. Also, in the grand scheme of Pixar characters like WALL-E, Remy, and Woody, even the dented Mater probably can’t throw Pixar’s prestige entirely off course.
As one EW reader suggested in our weekend movie Exit Poll, Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater and his story line would have been better suited for a direct-to-DVD sequel. Still, Mater is a second banana (Joey didn’t work for five big reasons: No Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Monica or Phoebe) in every sense of the word, so why give him top billing at all?
What do you think, PopWatchers? Is Mater really like Jar Jar Binks, or is it too harsh a comparison? Did Mater ruin Cars 2 for you, or was he actually your favorite thing about it? Let us know in the comments section below.