Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mater the Tow Truck...victim of "The Jar Jar Treatment"

A couple of weeks ago I watched Cars 2 on DVD. I liked it well enough, but I agree with what a lot of reviewers have said, in that Mater was given too much emphasis. I found Mater's portrayal here an all too good example of the "Jar Jar Binks" treatment, which I think deserves some analysis as how not to treat a comic relief character.

In Cars 2, the story has Lightning McQueen joining a worldwide Grand Prix race event, with Mater coming along. In Japan, Mater gets mistaken for a secret agent by a couple of James Bond-esque cars looking to stop some bad guys from endangering the racers by sabotaging their new "green" fuel. Mater's mix-up in this, combined with his utter naivete' and lack of common sense, results in McQueen losing his first race, and getting upset with Mater. Near the end of movie, McQueen takes back everything he said, urging Mater to just be who he is.

Like the infamous Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars Episode I, Materis character is an attempt to make an inept character likable and sympathetic, with the moral being to appreciate the oddballs in one's life. I would actually say that Mater's story was better than Jar Jar's, since Mater wasn't as completely useless. While Jar Jar's only important contribution to Episode I was showing people where the Gungans where the Gungans were hiding, Mater ends up saving the day, and even figures out who the real villain is in the end. Mater also, (unlike Jar Jar), is at one point brought to the realization that he comes across as a dope to everyone else. However, it was still a stretch to have Mater, the comic relief, have the weight of the world on his shoulders, and expect viewers to take him seriously because of it. A much better depiction of the accidental hero, in my view, would be The Man Who Knew Too Little, in which Bill Murray plays another doofus mixed up international intrigue, but who believes, from start to finish, that he's just acting in a weird urban drama set-up. That film was a goofy farce with no "touching moments" or moral high points at all.

What especially bothered me about Cars 2 was McQueen telling Mater to just keep being who he was, and if others didn't like it, that was their problem. This was the exact opposite of the moral in the first Cars movie, where McQueen actually does change who he is, from an arrogant jerk to a humble, caring person. Why does McQueen's hubris need to be fixed, but Mater's bumbling, clingy, occasionally even rude behavior not need to be fixed? Next week I'm going to elaborate more on this apparent double-standard in films, and explain how I think it hurts, rather than helps, the mentally challenged in real life.

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