Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez have the platonic automative friendship we all aspire to. (Disney-Pixar)

The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan’s review of “Cars 3,” click here.

In the movie theater I own in my mind, there are rules. There is no late seating. Conversation, even whispered, is forbidden. All phones, except the ones of people possibly receiving or performing an organ transplant, must be entirely off. Violation of these rules results in a painful, nonlethal shock delivered through your (comfortable) seat.

There are two exceptions to my noise ban: Marvel universe movies and kids movies. Because I have such fun at both, thanks to the enthusiasm of the audience.

Like with many children, “Cars” was the altar of my son’s childhood, and Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) was the idol he worshipped. “Cars 3,” unlike 2011’s utterly forgettable “Cars 2,” does justice to the saga of race car McQueen and his band of automotive friends and foes.

Here, McQueen is coping with his own aging parts, as well as a new brand of high-tech cars barreling down the track behind, beside and in front of him. (This may be the first time the phrase “drag coefficient” has been used in a kids movie.) Early in the film, McQueen suffers a nasty, possibly career-ending crash, and that’s when I remembered how much fun it is to have kids at (appropriate) movies.

When McQueen crashed, a chorus of prepubescent voices shouted, “NOOOOO!” and “AHHHHH!” and “WHAT?!” Then the theater fell into stunned silence, save for a few whimpers and sniffles and frantic parents whispering that, since George R.R. Martin had nothing to do with the script, the star wouldn’t die in the first 10 minutes of the film. (Though parents, especially of sensitive children, should be aware that the scene is brutal. Afterward my son declared, “It was like seeing my childhood crash,” because he is nothing if not dramatic.)

The kids’ excitement continued through some truly breathtaking race scenes as McQueen got his wheels back. A demolition derby around a tight eight-shaped track and a moonlit sprint through the woods are particularly both visually innovative and fun to watch. And, as the film crossed its (rather predictable) finish line, scores of little hands burst into applause.

Sometimes people think that enthusiasm clouds judgment, that you can’t be a “serious” watcher of movies if you give in to your emotions and gasp and clap and jump in your seat. That’s simply not the case — enthusiasm doesn’t mean blind acceptance of what’s happening on screen, regardless of its quality. Instead, getting really into a film is a response we should see MORE of. Silence is often golden at the movies, but if you love something, it’s never a bad idea to show it.

So if you’re going to see the G-rated “Cars 3,” find that 10 a.m. showing, the one where you know there will be kids squirming in their seats and slurping their Icees. When they gasp and laugh and clap, it’ll remind you that it’s OK to watch movies like a kid again.

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