Rewriting Cars 2: Solving the Mater Problem

By Dylan

Ok, let me confess right off the bat that I actually kind of like Cars 2. I have a weird softspot for it in my heart, and I think it’s because I saw it at the exact perfect age to like this movie. Looking back on it I can freely admit that if you’re not in this razor thin margin of ages that Cars 2 really has nothing for you. Unless you really like art design porn. Like, for example, photorealistic Italian hills.

So I decided that I, a complete and ordinary man with no film cred whatsoever except making a bunch of movies as kid that far exceed the quality of this movie and who has hosted a weekly podcast for 7 years, will try and fix this movie.

Before I get started I have to get a few things out of the way. In order to fix Cars 2 I decided it had to fit into the trilogy as best as possible, because really, it actually kind of doesn’t fit Cars 1 and 3 at all. Making this rather broad statement requires me to define what I think the “Cars Trilogy” is actually about. Cars (the first one) is about life being what you make of it, and in many ways, how to use the past and nostalgia to make advances in your life. Cars 3 is about reconciling the past and the future. In this framework I see Cars 1 as a “ghost of Christmas past” and Cars 3 as a “ghost of Christmas future”.

Cars 2 is about… uh. According to Vanity Fair, it’s about OPEC, but I disagree. Cars 2 is about nothing. Cars 2 has no meaningful tie in to this idea I’ve set up. Which is why I think it fails. Thematically and tonally it is completely disingenuous to what the Cars franchise is. Part of that, too, is because Cars 2 isn’t even really about Lightning McQueen. It’s about Mater.

So my proposed fixes to Cars 2 thus would take efforts to try and mold it into a movie that thematically links Cars 1 to Cars 3. For this exercise I will assume you know the plot of Cars 2. I have also set myself the task of trying to change as little as possible about the movie while still improving it. I will have to immediately violate this to indicate, well, Lightning has to be the main character. That’s a big change but I’m sure you agree. We need to do this because Lightning needs to have agency over the story. In the original Mater makes the decision for Lightning to race, instead of him, which given Lightning’s love of racing in the other two movies doesn’t really make sense.

We need this to be a sort of “ghost of christmas present” story. Lightning has learned to be a kinder person, less arrogant. In this movie he needs to learn how to accept his friends for who they are, he needs to learn that sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to “for the greater good.” Not that I really like that term much, but it pertains. For this he can still be reluctant to race, but he has a desire to. When the World Grand Prix comes around, he’s torn between wanting to race and not. To strengthen the ties between the trilogy, Lightning specifically doesn’t feel like he can race without Doc. Doc was his secret weapon Cars 1 is a movie about being mentored, Cars 3 about being a mentor, Cars 2 should be a movie about facing the world solo.

In my new Cars 2, the WGP is less about finding the best racer but rather about finding the best country at racing and so Jeff Gorvette eventually accepts the American mantle before Lightning is able to make a decision, thus making the decision for him. The plot to discredit alternative fuel is now, well, a subplot (and you’ll see how I change the ending shortly), and in the first race Jeff is the racer who gets injured and cannot race due to this plan. Lightning must eventually step up and take his place, as the only racer good enough to represent the American team. In fact lets double down, let’s kill off the American agent right now and have Lighting get confused for being him.

Lightning must then stumble and fail in his second race out. He doesn’t do poorly, he just doesn’t do great. Solidly middle of the pack. Just well enough to put him in the position that if he wins the final race, he can still win the World Grand Prix for the US. Not only that he’s a little distracted by having to be a super spy. Sucks right? This is the turning point, the inflection point between act 2 and act 3. Lightning is at his lowest, he doesn’t think he has anywhere to go but down. For now.

In act 3 Lightning realizes that the power to be a true racer was within him all along™. He wins the race and the WGP, and in the process derails the plot to undermine alternative fuels. By the way, in my version, this is just Prof. Z. trying to discredit alternative fuels because he’s a villain, instead of Sir Miles Axelrod trying to pull the Cars equivalent of Goldfinger. No twist villain. It’s all straightforward. It’s a subplot, no more, and for that it just needs to feel suitably linked to the main plot to be satisfying.

In my version of Cars 2 Mater barely even features. He’s just Lightning’s friend, that’s it. Lightning is the one who interacts with Finn McMissile, who teaches him the value of teamwork and trust. He serves a cross between a mentor and a friend. The movie serves as a stepping point for Lightning’s character, where he relearns faith in his own abilities that he lost after Doc dies. In fact, we can make this stronger by having Lightning delegate his task during the final race to Mater, establishing trust between the two, plus showing character growth from race 2, where Lightning tried to do everything at once and failed. He’s learning that he can’t do everything, that sometimes he has to ask for help, and that’s ok! Which we can then tie into Cars 3, where he learns how to be a mentor to Cruz and cedes not just part of his task, but the entire race, to Cruz. Character growth!

I think my version of Cars 2 is stronger than the theatrical, by 100 fold. It ties into both Cars and Cars 3 by providing Lightning character development that clearly happened between the two. I also remove what I think is the biggest sin that Cars 2 commits: that of introducing a moral counter to that of Cars. At the end of Cars Lightning learns that being a dick is kind of not a good policy to get you what you want. At the end of Cars 2 Mater learns that being a fucking asshole is ok as long as you’re sort of funny to kids. That’s like, not ok man.

Do you agree with my assessment? Do you think that I’ve improved Cars 2? Reach out and let us know, either in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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