It's hard to teach an old hot rod new tricks. But the fact is, every racecar gets a bit creaky in the struts eventually. And when the next generation of leaner, more balanced and state-of-the-art speedsters hits the racing circuit, the old ways of relying on pure fire-belching horsepower don't generate victories anymore.
Even Piston Cup champ Lightning McQueen is feeling the radiator heat as the new guys nip at his back tires. Well, the fact is, they're no longer nipping. Racers like the haughty Jackson Storm are zipping past and leaving Lightning behind in their high-test fumes.
Then, while pushing himself to the limits to keep pace, Lightning blows a tire and becomes part of one of the worst smash-up disasters the racing world has ever seen. And it looks as if the legendary red racer may be forced to hang up his slicks.
But after seeking a little solace—and quite a bit of sheet metal and primer work—back in Radiator Springs, Lightning is spurred on by girlfriend Sally and memories of his old mentor Doc Hudson. Lightning should be the one to decide when he's finished, right? And even though his new sponsor wants him to rest on his merchandise-branded laurels, Lightning can't help but believe he needs to give it one more try.
What about those sleek new racing simulators? For that matter, while trying out that high-tech rehab and getting guidance from a young race technician named Cruz Ramirez, number 95 could even delve into some old-school expertise. He's heard of a fabled old racing mentor named Smokey he might seek out.
McQueen may not be as, uh, lightning fast as he used to be. But he'll push his pistons to a meltdown before he rolls quietly off to the scrapheap.
Lightning wrestles repeatedly with feelings of obsolescence. But the film makes it clear that even when you lose the ability to be "the best," you can still find great joy in sharing the things you've learned and helping others.
Cruz Ramirez tells a story of missing her one chance to be an actual racer because she felt different from the other "real" race cars. And a couple of older cars talk of being ostracized because they were different from the in-crowd, too. But Lightning helps Cruz get past that self-limitation and reach for the things she's capable of.
Lightning and Sally express their love and commitment to each other. And she steps up to gently support and encourage him on a couple occasions. Mater gives his friend a few words of support, too.
During the film's closing credits we see a bumper sticker that reads "Carmaste," a Cars-ified riff on the Hindu blessing and greeting Namaste.
Sally is identified as Lightning's "girlfriend," though the two never so much as touch bumpers.
Near the beginning of the movie, Lightning is involved in a massive, tumbling crash that leaves him as a crumpled, smoking pile of sheet metal (seen from a distance). Old newsreel footage pictures Lightning's mentor, Doc Hudson, rolling over and over in a similar accident. Several other smaller crashes occur on the track, too.
During a backwoods demolition derby race, cars bash and crash into each other. Some are sent flying into billboards and other bits of scenery. One huge bus in that race threatens to crush Lightning and Cruz into scrap metal. That said, even these "intense" moments are still played with a sense of lighthearted silliness. Later, we see all of those vehicles back in one piece, cheering on Lightning at a race.
Crude or Profane Language
Lighting quips, "Life's a beach, and then you drive," a wink at another phrase parents will recognize while little viewers probably won't. His tow truck pal, Mater, says "shoot" several times. We also hear the phrases "heck of a win" and "son of a gun."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Lightning meets some old racers in a "car bar" of sorts where the anthropomorphized vehicles chat and sip oil. While training in the woods, someone mentions that "moonshiners" used to speed through the same wooded trails.
Other Negative Elements
The Cars franchise has never gotten much revved-up respect from movie critics or Pixar aficionados. The first STP-injected pic back in 2006, about a cocky racer learning good sportsmanship, was considered too kid-focused and lighthearted to wear a true Pixar plate. Meanwhile, Mater's James Bond-ish spy caper, Cars 2, was judged to have flown right off the cinematic track in crazy ways.
The fact is, though, they were both cute flicks with something in the tank for both kids and the popcorn-munching parents sitting beside them. And they were nowhere near the junkyard-bound clunkers that some would have you believe.
Cars 3 hotfoots it back to the raceway to deliver a story similar to Lightning McQueen's first one—this time from a different track position. And interestingly, that lane-change perspective brings with it new depth of movie tread. There are some compelling metaphors here about growing older, about welcoming those not like us and about the joy of mentoring.
Now, those thoughtful bits will likely speed right past your average Lighting-loving tyke, who'll be locked in to the goofy demolition derby smash-'em-ups and roaring, race-to-the-checkered-flag matchups. Those young movie-seat speedsters will like this cartoon flick because of the color, the giggles, the anthropomorphic cars and the sparkling acceleration on the track.
And, well, that's OK. Because Cars 3 is also a pic that leaves the thumping potholes, messy oil-slicks and gassy backfires for other kid-pics to wallow around in. It prefers to keep its racing fun and clean.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen; Cristela Alonzo as Cruz Ramirez; Chris Cooper as Smokey; Larry the Cable Guy as Mater; Nathan Fillion as Sterling; Bonnie Hunt as Sally
Brian Fee ( )
Walt Disney Studios
June 16, 2017