Pixar are having a midlife crisis – and they’ve decided to share it with us.

Well, the plot of the visually unsurpassed Cars 3 could easily be taken that way. Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is busy doing his thing – winning races – until, well, he isn’t. There’s a new breed of racer in town, using technology and crunched numbers to gain an advantage and win those shiny cups. Jackson Storm (Hammer) is fast (literally) becoming the new king of the racing ring, and McQueen isn’t sure how to deal.

Cars 3

His sponsors have a plan though, selling out to mudflap money man (and number 95 fan) Sterling (Nathan Fillion), who builds an institute to train up-and-coming racers – and (ostensibly) help Lightning McQueen regain a competitive edge. It’s here that our fave red racer is allotted a trainer in Cruz Ramirez (Alonzo), they do the initial rub-each-other-the-wrong-way thing, eventually bond after a few drives along the beach and go on to inspire each other to reach greater heights. In particular, Cruz dreamed of being a racer, not a trainer. Can she find some dream fulfilment?

Cars 3

Essentially Cars 3 is a Rocky movie, just with more stickers. The ageing champ is on his way out, a new breed is coming through, the older guy doesn’t want to quit, but he needs to find a way to compete… Should he continue on, or realise that his competitive days are over and become a mentor to the next generation? The allegory with Pixar’s situation should be obvious – other studios such as Illumination and Blue Sky are invading their once quite unique kid/adult space, and taking it for their own with some truly superb animated fare.

There’s also a spirited girl power message here though (yes, gender bias also exists in a society populated by vehicles), plus more racing and less fluff than the two predecessors – for the most part. Jammed into a theatre that contained more kids than adults, we were keen to gauge how Cars 3 went down with what is theoretically its target market (beyond the rampant merchandising). Predictably, the racing bits held them transfixed – as did good old Mater, Luigi, Guido and company with their loveable silliness – but then the introspective, deeper-meaning bits that have become more prevalent in Pixar’s recent efforts lost them completely as they started stomping, running about and generally going all Lord of the Flies on the place. Some parents really don’t give a damn…

With several emotionally-resonant adult themes running through its fuel lines, Cars 3 is a very good movie. We’re just not sure that it’s necessarily a very good kids’ movie.

In cinemas: June 22, 2017
Starring: The voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Brian Fee

Get up to speed with Cars at JB Hi-Fi.