Cars 3

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Cars 3 Movie Poster Image
 Parents recommendPopular with kids
Some intense scenes in story of empowerment, mentorship.
  • G
  • 2017
  • 109 minutes

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 25 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 75 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

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

Positive messages about female (cars) being able to race alongside males that 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. Themes also include perseverance and communication.

Positive Role Models & Representations

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' desire to learn about racing. Cruz is kind and encouraging to the cars she trains. 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 he learns some lessons, as does Mr. Sterling.

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. The demolition derby sequence includes gouts of 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/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.

Sexy Stuff

Sally and Lightning say "I love you."


Infrequent use of words including "dang," "loser," "shut up," "dang," "keister," "dadgum," "dummy," and "jerk." Lightning says "life's a beach."


Although there are no real product placements in the movie (aside from car models like Volkswagen, Dodge, and Porsche), 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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In a saloon/pub, race cars gather and enjoy undetermined drinks (presumably of something oil related). Brief reference to running moonshine.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byChuck S. September 8, 2017

Don'T bother

Pixar worked too hard to be politically correct. Their message is so abstract and watered down and had zero bearing on reality, it was pathetic. Don't bo... Continue reading
Adult Written byjenf3 February 3, 2018

Another kids movie with a major feminist agenda

Pixar ruined this movie. The original Cars movie was fun. My kids loved it. But this one is slow, not funny and all about pushing the feminist agenda. My kiddos... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old August 5, 2017

Best of the three

I loved this movie. I think it is the of the three "Cars" series. I like this film the best because this isn't the average Disney & Pixa... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byJamie5 July 1, 2017


My family and I have enjoyed the cars franchise for a while, this includes me (13), my sisters (16 & 10) , as well as my parents. I was super excited wh... Continue reading

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?

  • Which characters are role models? How do they demonstrate perseverance and communication? Why are those important character strengths?

  • 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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love cars

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

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