A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
This is an entertaining film rather than an educational one, but there are lessons about the importance of learning from your elders and believing in yourself. There's also a strong female-empowerment message.
Positive messages about "female" cars being able to race alongside "male" cars can be translated into encouraging girls to try things that may usually be done by boys/men. Also strong messages about how important experience and mentorship are to younger, newer cars (and people); even the young and talented have something to learn from the wise and experienced. Don't fear failure; be afraid of not having a chance to do something you dream of/want to do. Be in charge of your own destiny. You don't need to win to be a hero; sometimes knowing when to quit is more important. Progress and change are positive forces; we see value of moving forward and being adaptable. Themes include perseverance and communication, teamwork and the value of empathy and mutual respect.
Positive Role Models
Lightning McQueen shows how persistent and focused he can be to get back into racing. He's dedicated to making a comeback but also sensitive (eventually) to Cruz's desire to learn about racing. Cruz is demanding and smart-mouthed at first, making ageist jokes toward McQueen, but her apparent pushiness is shown to be driven by passion and determination. Her flaws and insecurities make her relatable, and she's ultimately encouraging and kind. Sally is supportive but also tough-talking to make sure Lightning knows it's time to get to work. Mater is once again a loyal best friend. Female car characters are encouraged to race. Storm is conceited and rude but learns some lessons, as does materialistic Sterling. Lightning McQueen's original team from Radiator Springs are all loyal and selfless in their efforts to support him. Legendary racers Miss Fritter and Lou Nash are admirable role models, funny, fearless, and respected.
Tackles themes around aging with confidence and positivity and champions older characters, who are voiced by older actors. Most characters are car equivalent of straight White men, but the smaller number of female characters make a big impact; they're presented as intelligent, funny, resilient, determined, successful, respected. Ethnic diversity is briefly touched upon when Latino character Cruz Ramirez talks about growing up feeling like she didn't belong. Her character later triumphs as a worthy successor to Lightning McQueen. Characters drawn from stereotype include the spaced-out hippie, the "simple" Southerner, and Italians with exaggerated accents.
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Violence & Scariness
Lightning McQueen is seriously injured during an intense crash that involves flips, skids, sparks flying, and lots of damage -- but he's fully rehabbed. Demolition derby sequence includes fire and aggressive vehicles (including large, former emergency and public-use vehicles like an ambulance and school bus) purposely crashing into and running over one another and Lightning and Cruz. One bus has chains and saws protruding from her frame and can spit fire. Flashbacks to Doc Hudson crashing during a race. Lightning crashes while using a training simulator. Even when there aren't crashes, race scenes can be intense as cars maneuver around each other and sometimes confront each other. Tense exchanges/arguments.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sally and Lightning say "I love you."
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Infrequent use of words including "dang," "loser," "shut up," "dang," "keister," "dadgum," "dummy," "butt," and "jerk." Lightning says "life's a beach."
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Products & Purchases
No real product placements in movie (aside from car models like Volkswagen, Dodge, Porsche), but there's a ton of Disney merchandise featuring Cars-related toys and other tie-ins -- like Lego kits, stuffed animals, coloring books, figurines, home accessories, games, and apparel. A conversation between Sterling and Lightning McQueen negatively (and perhaps ironically) glamorizes consumerism and wealth, with Sterling boasting about merchandising and saying, "We'll be rich beyond belief."
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
In a saloon/pub, race cars gather and enjoy undetermined drinks (presumably of something oil related). Brief reference to running moonshine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Cars 3 is part of Pixar's popular movie franchise about a world of talking, human-like vehicles. The star-studded voice cast, led by Owen Wilson, returns for a threequel that's much more diverse and uplifting (not to mention less violent) than the last installment, Cars 2. That said, while language, romance, and drinking and smoking are all minimal, be ready for a couple of intense crash/demolition derby scenes in which main characters are damaged, in danger, or afraid of aggressive vehicles (one even deploys spinning saws). But the characters learn key life lessons, and there are positive messages about the importance of finding wise, supportive mentors (like the dearly departed Doc Hudson); the idea that no matter how old you are, you always have more to learn; and the fact that regardless of your gender or what you look like, you should be allowed to compete and reach for your dreams. Overall, this is a great pick for car fans of all ages. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This "threequel" promotes the idea that girls can (and should!) do anything they set out to accomplish and that there's something special about the mentor/protégé bond. Although there's nothing particularly original about the plot (it's pretty obvious what will end up happening), Cars 3 is considerably better and milder than the overly violent Cars 2, and its two major themes -- about mentorship and fearlessness -- are touching and necessary for kids. In a culture that idolizes youth, it's lovely to see Lightning continuing to mourn the relationship he had with Doc Hudson. And then he, in turn, finds himself on the other end of a similar bond with Cruz, who might be a trainer but once dreamed of racing herself -- until she realized no one else at the races looked like her.
There's a surprising amount to unpack in this kid-friendly movie: It deals with friendship, ageism, sexism, and teacher-student relationships. All of the cast does a fine job, although Mater, Sally, and the Radiator Springs crew take a backseat to Alonzo's Cruz. Joining the fun are Kerry Washington as no-nonsense, data-driven racing analyst Natalie Certain, and a quartet of retired racers (including Chris Cooper as Smokey, Doc Hudson's one-time crew chief, and Margo Martindale as a pioneering "lady racer") who knew, mentored, and raced with Doc. All are welcome new characters. Ultimately, Cars 3 is about Lightning maturing into a racer who's dealing with being possibly past his prime. Driven by McQueen's memories of his relationship with Doc and his growing attachment to young Cruz, this Cars sequel is ultimately a little-kid-friendly winner.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.