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Cars 2: She’ll Run, But Needs a Tune-Up

By Pam Glazier · June 27, 2011

The latest from Pixar has been met with mixed reviews. Some find it a fun family romp. Others prefer to think of it more as an auto-themed Jar Jar Binx solo project. And yet other-others deride its overly preachy nature. As far as opinions go, the full gamut has been run. So, you may find yourself asking, is the movie good, or isn’t it? This basic question is hard to answer because the answer is yes and no… yno… noehs… you get the idea.

The first half of the film is spent setting up what an idiot Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is. In the town of Radiator Springs, he’s just an old nutbar that everyone’s gotten used to. But outside, in the “real world” he is an embarrassing liability that sucks the fun out of things and ruins important races. There are several scenes that show how mortifying it is when Mater sticks up for his friend Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), or when he misinterprets the purpose of a rock garden in Japan. In the real world he has to have excuses made for him because the people don’t “get him.”

The above sequences probably wouldn’t have left such a bad taste in my mouth if they hadn’t been an hour long. But they were, and so it did.

We don’t get into the meat of the story until about 60 minutes into the movie—three times longer than it should have taken—and then, all of a sudden, Mater miraculously gets everything right despite being a bumbling idiot. The stakes are high and the danger is real to the audience. But this change is too sudden here. There was no struggle, no conflict, just poof! And so it felt as if Cars 2 is two different movies.

Fortunately, directly after that “poof” is where the film gets good. Now we’ve got a fish-out-of-water story (Mater against the world), and that fish has an objective (stop the danger), and that objective is going to be hard to overcome (because he’s not the super-spy he’s been mistaken for). There’s your story. Everything in the hour preceding this was simply backstory for the world and characters, and it should’ve taken 15-20 minutes tops.

If I may make an interesting (and perhaps overly bold) parallel, I am reminded of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Now that’s a film that did it right. You’ve got the country bumpkin who is scoffed at and embarrassing, but he stays consistent; he’s always him. Instead of changing into a better version of himself, he grows from his experiences and faces his conflict head on. And even though Mr. Smith may be peculiar, this trait isn’t played up at his expense by the filmmakers.

Conversely, Cars 2 is begging us to roll our eyes at the stupidity of Mater. And then, it questions our shallow nature for so harshly judging such an obviously “awesome” guy. If 30 minutes were shaved out of the beginning of this film, I think they could find the story they were trying to tell. Unfortunately, they didn’t. And Cars 2 falls flat. 

But despite Cars 2 racing forward on four flat tires through the first half of the film, strangely enough, the second half is top-notch. The pace picks up, the action kicks in, and we finally start to care about the characters. Hell, I got teary-eyed at least five times.

The bottom line is this: Cars 2 has action, comedy, cool effects, revered characters, excellent voice talent, and a great ending. It’s worth seeing for these things alone, but don’t expect to be satisfied with the story as a whole. It’s going to drag for the first hour. You may find yourself drumming your fingers or lightly dozing, but when that second hour starts up, you’re in for a treat.