SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING: Sportsmanship; Teamwork; Friendship.

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS: Responsibility; Caring; Citizenship.

AT A GLANCE: Age: 5-8; MPAA Rating — G; Animated; 2006; 116 minutes; Color; Available at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


“Cars” is the story of a talented rookie race car named Lightning McQueen. He is so obsessed with winning that he can’t be a friend to anyone. McQueen’s career is threatened when he accidentally winds up in a small town off the main road. Trying to make it to the racetrack for a big race, McQueen damages property. He is arrested and forced to repair the damages before he can leave. In his travail, McQueen finds true friends and learns that winning isn’t everything.


Talking about this movie and playing games based on it are excellent ways to interact with your child. For car-fanatic children, it is great fun to look for all the different models. In addition, “Cars” can help teach kids how to be a good sport, work well with others, take responsibility for their actions, and be a true friend.


There are a few gratuitous uses of word the “hell”.


tow truck, tank, fire engine, semi-truck, gasoline, tires, headlights, engine, oil, racetrack, fame, victory, sportsmanship, defeat, responsibility, pit crew, radiator, spring, piston.




Which character was your favorite? — If you could have any of the characters in the movie as a friend, which would you choose? — Why is that?

→ Always encourage your child to form opinions and to share them.

→ Open-ended questions will help get a discussion going.

Why was Lightning McQueen trying to get to California?

What actions did Lightning McQueen take that made him wind up in Radiator Springs?

Who wound up winning the Piston Cup race?

→ Just talking with your child fosters verbal, social and emotional learning.

→ Exercise memory skills by asking about the story, the characters, and the plot. Keep it light and fun.

If you could drive any of the cars in the movie, which would you choose? How come?

→ Young children love Story Time.



Select questions appropriate for your child.


1. Was Lightning McQueen a good friend at the beginning of the movie? How about at the end? Talking About It — He wasn’t a good friend to anybody at the beginning of the movie. Not only did he fire his pit crew, but he also let Mack down by falling asleep and making him drive overnight without a nap. Lightning actually didn’t have any friends at the beginning of the movie. However, by the end, he had found good friends in Radiator Springs and he had made up with Mack.

→ Don’t feel obligated to cover everything in this Guide. One or two questions are all that some children will tolerate. However, if your child watches the movie more than once, on each occasion start a new conversation or pick a new activity. This will enhance verbal development and increase the number of lessons your child takes from the film.

2. How did Lightning show that “winning isn’t everything”? Talking About It — At the last race, Lightning decided to help The King get to the finish line, instead of taking first place himself. Everyone was proud of Lightning because he did the right thing, and put the needs of someone else before his own. Because of this, Lightning was the hero of the race, even though he didn’t win. (In this situation, Lightning applied the Golden Rule.)

→ You can talk about a movie at any time: right after it is over, in the car on the way to school, during quiet time, or before bed.

3. Lightning McQueen didn’t listen to his pit crew, and wouldn’t change his tires during the Piston Cup Race. What were the consequences of this decision? Talking About It — Though he was in first place and going very fast, his tires blew out and two other cars were able to catch up with him. Because he didn’t take the advice of the pit crew (the cars who knew best) he didn’t win the race. As The King said, “You ain’t gonna win unless you got good folks behind you”.

→ When a parent takes a concept from the movie seriously, a child will start thinking about the lessons of the film. Often, it only takes one comment to start a child’s mind going.

4. At first, Lightning looked down on “rusty, old cars”. What did he learn from Mater? Talking About It — He learned that different people can be friends, and that just because someone looks odd and run down doesn’t mean they are less of a person. Mater taught him all of this, and also how to be a good friend.

5. Did Lightning have a responsibility to fix Radiator Springs? What do his actions tell us about Lightning? Talking About It — Yes. If you break or destroy something, even by accident, you have an obligation to fix it, replace it, or pay for it. McQueen didn’t demonstrate responsibility by constantly trying to run away. If he had just focused on doing the job right the first time, he probably could have made it to California in time to talk to Dinoco. His actions tell us that, at first, he was very self-centered and only cared about his own problems. In the end, he became more caring, responsible and mature, and put others before himself.


1. Wash the family car together — On a sunny day, break out some buckets, rags and sudsy soap. (Make sure that you get soap which is approved for outdoor drains.) Have your child help you wash your car. As you work around it, explain what the different parts do (the headlights light up the dark road, the trunk holds shopping bags, etc). Also explore under the hood. If you don’t know about today’s automobile engines, you might look at How Stuff Works or Family Car with your child before looking at the real car.

2. What kind of cars go by? — Sit outside in the front yard, or go to a place where you can sit and safely watch a busy street (like a coffee shop or a park). Bring along a notebook and some pencils. With your child, count how many cars go past. Classify them into groups, by make, model, color, or size. Draw some of your favorites. Talk about what makes cars different from each other (two doors/four doors, sedan/convertible/pick-up truck, etc). See if you can spot some cars from the movie (like a fire truck, tow truck, police car, or even a Porsche!).

3. The Piston Cup Race — You can hold your own “Piston Cup Race” in a backyard or at a park. With your child, make your own Piston Cup. Get your family and friends involved: have each person wear a different colored shirt. You can even put racing numbers on the back with masking tape. (You can get as elaborate as you like, with checkered flags, start/finish lines, etc.) Pick what kind of race you want to have (three-legged, running, hopping, sack race, etc). Then, ready, set, go! The winner takes the cup!


Stories are essential tools for verbal development, social-emotional learning, and character education. Intentional parents can use family movies as a basis for storytelling.

Repeat the story of the movie at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Let your child correct you if you make a mistake and, better yet, encourage your child to tell you the story. Both of you can invent new adventures for Lightning McQueen and his friends. Your child’s imaginative and verbal capacities will be enhanced if you invent new characters and create situations that are not in the movie. To learn more about enhancing growth and development through stories told to children, go to How to Tell Bedtime Stories . . . Any Time.

Below is a story to read to your child. If you read it at bedtime and your child falls asleep before you are finished, complete the story some other time.

Mustang wasn’t an old car, but he felt like he was ancient. His light blue paint was dull and scratched. He didn’t take care of himself by going to the car wash. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone to the garage for a tune up.

Five years ago his life had been very different. Then, Mustang was a professional racecar, winning first or second place in every race he entered. When he was racing, Mustang’s powder blue paint was shined to such a high gloss that it reflected the sun like a mirror. People called him the “Blue Streak” and he was becoming famous among racing fans.

But then there was a terrible accident. Mustang tried to go just a little too fast around a curve and crashed into the guardrail. His front end got all smashed up; his axle was bent; and his motor was so banged around that it didn’t work right anymore. Mustang now lived on a small farm in the countryside near Plymouth, the place where the Pilgrims landed when they sailed from Europe to America.

[Show your child Plymouth, Europe, and England on a map or a globe. Trace the route the Pilgrims took across the ocean. Better yet, if your child knows these locations, have your child show you where they are.]

After the crash, the mechanics tried to straighten Mustang’s axle and they gave him a new front end. They worked on his motor for days and days. But Mustang wasn’t the same. His axle shook violently if his speed was more than 25 miles an hour and his engine tired easily. The Blue Streak had run his last race.

Over the years, Mustang saw his friends less and less. He was embarrassed to go out because his engine coughed and burped. All he needed was a tune up, but that reminded Mustang of his racing days. He couldn’t face going to the garage. Nowadays, Mustang stayed home by himself and played computer games or watched television.

One spring day, the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue. Birds were chirping, bees were busy at the flowers, and squirrels were playing in the trees. It was just the type of day to make you happy. But Mustang wasn’t happy. He looked at himself in the mirror and saw a dented car with faded blue paint that was all scratched up.

Then he had an idea. “My problem,” he thought, “is that I’m in a rut. I watch the same stupid TV shows every day. I play each new computer game as it comes out, but after a while, each one is pretty much like the others. I don’t get outside enough. My friends think I’m a stranger. I never meet anyone new. . . . I need to change my life!”

But what could he do? What he knew best was racing, but he couldn’t do that anymore. His engine still got tired very easily; his axle still wasn’t completely straight. Mustang thought and thought, but he couldn’t think of anything that he wanted to do. He sighed, and turned on the TV

A few days later, Mustang saw the movie “Cars” on TV. The idea that someone would give up his first place prize to push another car across the finish line brought tears to Mustang’s windshield. The next day, each time he thought about The King taking a victory lap, Mustang had to turn on his windshield wipers.

The next day, Mustang went back to watching the same old TV shows and getting tired of the latest computer games after only a few hours. He felt sorrier for himself than ever. He stopped looking at himself in the mirror. It was all too depressing.

Then one day the evening news reported that young cars all across the country were signing up for summer racing camps. It appeared that every kid car wanted to speed around a track, beat out the other cars, and win races.

Mustang knew that it didn’t take much to start a racing camp. All you needed was a big lot for a track, so the cars could go round and round; a couple of old tires or oil drums, to show the cars where to race; and a checkered flag, to wave at the winner. You would also want to write down the names of the campers; a pad of paper would do for that.

In a flash, it came to him. Mustang had plenty of room on his farm for a racetrack. There was also enough space for a parking lot. The cars could all assemble there while Mustang explained how to race. There was even an old barn that could serve as a kid car dormitory. Wouldn’t it be fun, he thought, to teach young cars how to race and how to behave like ladies and gentlemen on the track? Mustang began to plan and by the next day he had it all worked out. He was going to start his own racing camp!

That morning, Mustang laid out an oval track using empty oil drums to mark the boundaries. He chose a large square field near the road to be the parking lot. Finally, he made a big rectangular sign that said, “Blue Streak’s Famous Summer Racing Camp”.

[Show your child, or have your child show you, the difference between an oval, a circle and a rectangle.]

When his work was done, Mustang went to the garage for a tune up and started a strict exercise program. After a few weeks and a lot of hard work, Mustang could race around the track fast enough to show young cars all the right racing moves. His old axle still shook when he went more than 25 miles an hour and that limited his speed, but, as Mustang explained to himself, “Nothing’s perfect.”

The next step was a trip to the car wash for the “special wash and hot wax”. Mustang paid extra to have some of his dents and most of the scratches fixed. Then he had the boys in the neighborhood shine his powder blue paint so that it would reflect the sun again. The “Blue Streak” was back.

Now, Mustang was ready to start his summer camp. He bought a checkered flag and found an old pad of paper to serve as a roll book. He put up his sign. Then he went to the local TV station and paid for a commercial, so that everyone would know about “Blue Streak’s Famous Summer Racing Camp”.

That night, Mustang looked at himself in the mirror. The car that he saw was a lot different than the car he’d seen there a few weeks ago. He felt better than he had at any time since the accident.

[If your child isn’t sleepy, ask why Mustang felt better now than at any time since the accident. Lead the discussion to the fact that Mustang felt better because he had a goal and something to do that he really liked.]

After a few days, the parking lot was full of young cars racing their engines and showing off their best wheelies. But every day, before he let the youngsters practice their racing moves, Mustang spent two hours teaching the basics of racing: how to make a sharp turn, how to brake quickly, how to pass safely, and most importantly, how to be a good sport. He told them the story of his accident and how he had wanted to win so badly that he had taken too many chances and paid the price.

One little car, named Zippy, seemed to have more talent than the others. Zippy was a yellow car with a sunroof and big wheels. He had a specially painted black stripe along each of his sides. Zippy was always the first car on the track in the morning and usually he was the first at the finish line. Mustang started to call him “Zip”, because he was so fast.

At the end of the summer there was an all-camp race and everyone expected Zippy to win. The race was going just as expected, with Zippy in the lead. However, on the last lap, a little brown car named Debbie’s Dream zoomed past Zippy to get the checkered flag and win the race. Zippy got very mad, roaring around in the parking lot, revving his engine, spinning his wheels, and yelling mean things at Debbie’s Dream.

[Unless your child is about to fall asleep, pause here and ask if Zippy was reacting well to his disappointment.]

Mustang saw what was going on and called Zippy over. “Look, Zip, you’re a wonderful racer, probably the best kid car I’ve ever seen. But when you get upset after losing, well, you look like a poor sport.”

“But I should have won!” complained Zippy.

“No”, said Mustang gently, “Debbie’s Dream won, fair and square. You both tried your hardest. You both should be proud of your accomplishment. But Debbie’s Dream won the race.”

As Zippy continued to pout, Mustang said, “I know it’s a hard lesson to learn, Zip, but you can’t win every time.”

Zippy looked down and let his engine idle. “I suppose you’re right, Mustang. I just wanted to win so badly.”

“I know the feeling”, Mustang said, “but just learn from your mistakes and try harder next time. Now, how about you and me having a quick little race to . . . you know where! Ready, set . . . go!”

The two cars sped off to congratulate Debbie’s Dream on her big win.

The end.


If your child has a favorite car in particular, head to the library and find some books about it. You might also try looking at car-oriented magazines. Ask your local librarian for books about cars, driving, and racing.

Written by James Frieden and Lauren Humphrey.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email