SNL’s Cars 4 Sketch Makes Little Sense

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SNL Host Owen Wilson Plays Himself in a Sketch about a Cars Sequel

I think Owen Wilson is pretty good. I’ve seen him in a couple of things by now, and although he’s never been the reason I watched a movie, Wilson tends to be a welcome addition to any film. He did his job in Night at the Museum. Wedding Crashers was enjoyable. Zoolander is nice, too. I think he’s a funny guy who does funny movies in a funny town. He’s fine, but all his previous performances are nothing compared to one character: Owen Wilson’s defining role was Lighting McQueen in the Cars series.

The first Cars movie came out in 2006. For the years that followed (and many more after that), Cars was, in my eyes, the greatest movie ever made. I mean, a talking race car? Learning the powers of humility and community between bouts of going super fast? It was a masterpiece. It was civilization’s magnum opus. It was an unfettered expression of everything humanity could and should and would be if only given the chance. That’s what Lightning McQueen represented. Keep that in mind for a little while.

Before the show began on Saturday, I texted a friend, “Owen Wilson will forever be the-guy-who-was-Mcqueen.” “I’ve seen a lot of his stuff.” “It’s never been real to me.” “He’s just the #95 car.” Hundreds of hours of listening to a red racecar left an indelible mark on who I had become, and I couldn’t listen to the monologue without thinking Lighting was putting on one last show. Whenever Wilson opened his mouth, all I heard was “Kachow.” I could watch Owen Wilson on SNL play Jeff Bezos happily, knowing the voice which I had spent so long adoring was still on adventures. I didn’t need a Cars sketch. No one needed a Cars sketch.

What exactly was that Cars sketch?

From the brilliant minds of Studio 8H comes Lightning McQueen as a sexual predator. Cars 4 Lighting makes unwanted advances to Mater’s sister, married cars, young cars, and really young cars. Lighting McQueen gets arrested and calls it a “bad date” and a “witch hunt.” He calls Mater a terrible name. Partway through recording, Owen Wilson, playing himself stops production to say, “I think Lightning McQueen is the bad guy in this.” “It just feels like there’s a lot of him creeping on girl cars and then arguing with their dads and husbands and stuff. And it’s a real departure for the character.” He adds later that he “want(s) no part in this” before agreeing after seeing his contract.

I won’t argue the sudden change in character. It’s a parody of a fake non-person; SNL isn’t supposed to do what most would agree Lightning McQueen would do. I won’t argue the technicalities. SNL took creative liberties to create an absurd situation; it had to be done to make it new. My only question is, why would they go that way with the character?

The 2013 SNL parody of Beauty and the Beast sees the supposed beast reveal he thought he was the beauty and Kristen Wiig was the beast. It’s a great premise. The whole sketch is solid because the foundational idea is excellent. What if they got it mixed up? What would Beast think the princess’s flaws were? How would each react? Every question has an interesting answer. It’s a job well done.

In contrast, the question of the Cars 4 sketch is simply “what if Lighting McQueen was a worse person?” McQueen’s goodness was never what made him a redeemable character. Over the course of three movies, #95 did a lot of bad things. What made him worth it was that he recognized his mistakes and tried to be better. Having a sudden turn of events where he’s just terrible isn’t clever or particularly shocking. It’s just lazy.

What’s more, Cars 3 came out four years ago. Cars 2 came out a decade ago. It’s not a relevant film, nor is it old enough for a majority of the SNL audience to have seen it. Most adults don’t watch Disney movies, and they would be less familiar with the premise from the beginning.

I don’t know. Maybe it was funny, and I’m just too close to the Cars franchise to appreciate the humor. It could be true. However, the sketch seemed like a weak spot in what was otherwise a solid first show back. I know Jason Sudeikis is coming up in a few weeks, and I hope SNL can do better moving forward.