Note: After reading his review of “Cars 3,” the author invites you to learn more about “Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing,” a new book that compares the writings of C. S. Lewis with the music of U2 in a life-changing journey through grief, joy, and longing for God. Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
I have always respected the makers of the “Cars” series for their research. Having traveled Route 66, I loved the original “Cars” because the filmmakers went to great lengths traveling the road themselves and researching it. That’s why “Cars” ended up being such a wonderful love letter to Route 66 and classic Americana.
If “Cars” is a tribute to Route 66, “Cars 3” is a tribute to the sport of racing, to the value and joy of mentorship, to putting the interests of others before your own interests, and a hint of “girl power” feminism that has become a frequent Hollywood talking point across all genres.
But mostly it’s a tribute to racing.
(Observations) Cars 3’s Entertainment Value and Film Craft
“Cars 3” goes back to the storylines, to some extent, of the original “Cars” by diving deeper into the backstory of Doc Hudson (voiced by the legendary Paul Newman in “Cars”). Paul Newman died after “Cars,” so his character was not brought back for “Cars 2,” but in “Cars 3” he returns, thanks to flashbacks.
In fact, I believe they used some voice work that Paul Newman did for “Cars” that was perhaps edited out of the original film. That’s just a guess. I haven’t confirmed that as fact. But the flashback scenes in “Cars 3” have Doc Hudson speaking lines that I don’t remember hearing in “Cars.” (Or maybe my memory’s just bad.)
Either way, the Doc Hudson element is a wonderful storyline about the value of having mentors, coaches, and wise father/grandfather figures in our lives, and the theme unfolds beautifully in “Cars 3.” It’s perfect for Father’s Day weekend, come to think of it. It also doesn’t feel forced. It’s paced and developed with such care and ease that it’s impossible not to “feel all the feels” in those plot points. (Having lost my dad earlier this year, I will admit I got a little teary-eyed in parts.)
Besides the great writing in “Cars 3,” the animation is just beautiful, as you’d expect. I especially loved the scenes where the characters drive on the beach. You almost wish the whole film took place on the beach. It also brings back the “Cars” formula of great rock and country songs in the soundtrack, just like the first film. Although I’m not some rabid fan of any of the artists they use, somehow the soundtrack really fits the mood of “Cars 3” just like the music did in “Cars.”
And of course we get some more hilarity from Mater. He’s not the big focus anymore like he was in “Cars 2,” or even in “Cars” where the friendship between Mater and Lightning McQueen is a big element. But Mater gets some great zingers in “Cars 3” that had us all laughing out loud.
Oh, and it has Chris Cooper in it. Chris Cooper is awesome.
(Interpretation) Cars 3’s Worldviews, Deeper Layers of Meaning, Edifying Themes
“Cars 3” is a flawless family film. It’s rated G. It has some hints of moralizing that echo some of the general social justice vibes of the current cultural climate, but without all the rancor and insults. I can’t really explain the feminism aspect without giving spoilers away (I believe in strict no-spoiler reviews), but it’s a somewhat predictable “girl power” theme in which the male species (if cars can even have gender) yields to the limitless potential and unleashed power of the female. Hollywood has been hammering that particular moral theme with such aggressiveness in recent years that its appearance in “Cars 3” feels a little forced and perfunctory. Yet “Cars 3” does it all with such an original style and charm that you still get caught up in the story and you still cheer for the underdog heroine.
They avoid making it cheesy, in other words. The “feminist” theme tapped into a larger universal: the classic David vs. Goliath underdog theme, which transcends gender and modern politics. Who doesn’t like cheering for the underdog?
I think what really won me over, however, was how “Cars 3” rhymed with a major theme in the original “Cars”: Lightning McQueen’s journey from self-absorption to self-sacrifice for the benefit of those around him. That theme of unselfish love and self-sacrifice is perhaps the number one theme in the entire Cars series, and “Cars 3” hits it once again with real emotional power and creativity.
Conclusion: A Return to the Classic Style of the First ‘Cars’ With Added Themes of Mentorship, Feminism, and the Virtue of Self-Sacrifice
Granted, sometimes animated movies with a strong moral message–no matter who’s worldview it’s drawing from for the message, whether secular or religious–can feel a little heavy-handed and preachy. Animated films with an overt moral message are often the secular version of a faith-based film that’s trying too hard. (“Zootopia” is a recent example. While I greatly enjoyed that film and have watched it multiple times, it can be a little heavy-handed at times.)
But while “Cars 3” waves the Social Justice flag in a way that maybe edges close to being preachy (i.e. the moral message becomes so front and center that the story becomes secondary to the moral lesson), it does all of it with a classic “Cars” Route 66 racing charm that makes it irresistible. And it’s not a vicious “all males are evil” radical style of feminism, but a respectful, earnest kind that makes you cheer for the female protagonist and feel genuine empathy for her point of view. In addition, the touching spotlights on the value of mentorship, self-sacrifice and leaving a legacy through teaching/coaching just adds an even shinier wax finish to the irresistible charm of “Cars 3.”
Sure, it doesn’t quite recapture or exceed the magic of the original “Cars,” but “Cars 3” comes pretty close. It’s drafting right behind the original classic that has made Lightning McQueen such a beloved household name in popular culture.
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Content advisory for this G film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: None.
Violence/Gore/Scary/Disturbing Content: Car crashes.
Language: Mater probably says “by gum” or “golly gee whiz” in it somewhere, but I can’t remember.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Only a cocktail of fiery racing nitro.
Note: The parental guidance content advisory is written from a Christian worldview. I am a person of faith with orthodox Christian beliefs like those expressed in “The Everlasting Man” by G. K. Chesterton, “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, and “The Pursuit of God” by A. W. Tozer. That being said, I do not believe that the depiction of evil, even graphic depictions of evil or negative themes in films, is in itself always immoral. I believe it depends on the context and the worldview behind the film’s depiction of evil. All that being said, I try to report the content that gives the film its rating so that you can make an informed decision about viewing the film. Some people need to know detailed information about the content, some do not, in order to make a decision. I try to provide enough detail to give you a sense of the nature of the content. If you need more detail to make a better decision, I recommend visiting PluggedIn.com, as they provide extremely detailed reports of a movie’s content.