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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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/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 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.
What's the story?
CARS 3 follows famous race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) as he transitions from the peak of his career to dealing with younger, faster, higher-tech rivals who obviously want him to retire and get out of the way. Lightning is used to his regular competitors -- but then hotshot upstart Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) beats everyone in a race. As a "next gen" race car, Storm trains inside, maximizing his features for speed and practicing on expensive simulators. After Storm wins several races in a row, Lightning pushes himself too hard and ends up injured in a serious crash. He retreats from the world for a few months, but eventually he agrees with his partner/lawyer, Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), that it's time to make a comeback. With the help of a new-and-improved Rusteze training facility and personal trainer Cruz Ramirez (comedian Cristela Alonzo), Lightning has only a few weeks to get ready for the big race that will determine whether he'll keep racing ... or retire for good.
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 his memories of his relationship with Doc and his growing attachment to young Cruz, this Cars sequel is ultimately a little-kid-friendly winner.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in Cars 3. Why is confidence a vital part of competition/sports? What does Sally mean when she tells Lightning, "Don't fear failure -- be afraid of not having the chance"? Why do you think Cruz feels that she doesn't belong in a race? Do you think the movie is trying to make a point about females competing alongside males? Why does Storm initially dismiss her as a competitor?
Which parts of the movie were scary? Why? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Why is it so important to Lightning that he be the one to decide when he's done racing? What does he learn over the course of the movie? What do you think he'll do next?
Kids: What made you want to see this movie? The story or the ads/product tie-ins? Do you want things more when Cars characters are on them? At what age do kids understand what marketing and advertising are?
- In theaters: June 16, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: November 7, 2017
- Cast: Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer
- Director: Brian Fee
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Communication, Perseverance
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.