Can Kids Really Relate to ‘Cars 3’?

Can Kids Really Relate to ‘Cars 3’?
What child can understand losing professional colleagues after a long career?
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3.]

Cars 3 is par for the course for Pixar, in the sense that it talks past child viewers in order to speak to life experiences and complex emotions that the creators of inferior animated movies simply do not have the consideration or ingenuity to address. Movies like Up, Toy Story 3 and Inside Out do not, in that sense, consider the lives that child viewers actually lead. In these films, child viewers are encouraged to appreciate a world that they will soon grow into. There is, in other words, an adult quality to these stories even if they are essentially children’s stories at hearts.

With that in mind: What are kids supposed to make of Cars 3, a well-meaning but misconceived sports/action-comedy that concludes that passing the baton, and gracefully sharing a stage with young up-and-comers, is just as satisfying as enjoying your day in the sun? What children see themselves in talking race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), an amiable has-been who is now forced to consider retirement? Can children relate, beyond a basic “sharing is caring” take-away, to a story about an aging professional who has to make room for younger competitors? Why, in other words, is an anthropomorphized car teaching kids that someday, they too will have to find satisfaction in doing something other than what they love? Is the target audience for Cars 3 really that old at heart?

McQueen is, for much of Cars 3, a sympathetic hothead. He grumbles and mutters his way through various encounters that remind him that he isn’t the fastest professional race car on the track anymore. He’s been eclipsed by up-and-comer Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer), a new model that was built and trained to go faster. Storm is Ivan Drago to McQueen’s Rocky, a dynamic that child viewers are made to understand thanks to Storm’s insensitive behavior. He’s callous while McQueen is soft-spoken, and neurotically obsessed with going back to his roots, getting into the zone and psyching out his competitors (though always in a friendly way).

Here’s where a kid viewer probably can’t relate to McQueen’s story: Storm is so good that McQueen watches helplessly as his colleagues are all essentially forced into retirement. They can’t compete with this young, disrespectful whipper-snapper, and therefore almost…