When Pixar released Toy Story in 1995, I was just the right age to still have toys, but old enough to get some of the humor in the film intended for adults. Like so many, I was enchanted. The story of Woody, the cowboy toy whose status is threatened by Buzz Lightyear, a spaceman action figure, was compelling, touching, and hilarious. And when Toy Story 2 came out, I was able to catch all the many references to dozens of other films and pop culture icons. In fact, I think that Toy Story 2 managed to outdo its predecessor. With the inclusion of new characters Jessie and Bullseye, the film ratcheted up the emotional content, while the writing proved even more hilarious. That was 1999. It's been 11 years, and since then, Pixar has gone far beyond the relatively simplistic animation of the Toy Story series, but have never strayed far from the core philosophy that drives all of their productions: To make films with heart and character. Now, in 2010, fifteen years after the first Toy Story, Pixar returns with Toy Story 3. Can this seemingly invincible group of filmmakers overcome 15 years of anticipation and the aging of their audience?
As Toy Story 3 opens, beloved toy owner Andy (John Morris) is off to college. He hasn't played with his toys in years, and through the attrition of yard sales and spring cleanings, only a small group survive from the horde seen in the previous two pictures. Still standing is Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Bullseye, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and the three-eyed aliens from Pizza Planet. Andy's mom (Laurie Metcalf) demands that before he leaves for school, he must clear out his room, trashing what he doesn't want, taking what he does, and putting everything else in the attic. While Andy isn't too keen on playing with his toys, he does intend to put them in the attic, but through a mix-up, they end up on the curb, waiting to be tossed in the trash. Narrowly escaping, they hop into a box destined for Sunnyside Daycare, where abandoned toys can be played with again. There, they might a bevy of new toys, led by Lotso (Ned Beatty) and Ken (Michael Keaton). At first, everything seems wonderful, but Woody can't stand to abandon Andy, and Buzz discovers some troubling secrets behind the pleasant veneer of Sunnyside.
Right from the first moments of the film (preceded by an absolutely brilliant short called Day and Night
), I was immediately sucked back in to the world of Woody and Buzz. Opening with a playtime scenario worthy of Andy's best imaginings, the film settles in as time lapses and the toys become neglected. It's a complete joy to see these characters on the big screen again, and it's nice to see Jessie and Bullseye integrated into the group, as they only joined the main lot of toys at the end of the last film. The humor has been scaled back from the heights of Toy Story 2
, but in its place is a renewed focus on the characters. Even as we are introduced to an uncountable amount of new toys (have fun finding all the easter eggs Pixar inevitably threw in; I already found one of the creatures from Monster's Inc.
), the movie never loses sight of its main characters. And, of course, as always, the voice acting is top notch through and through, with many surprising inclusions, such as Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, Bonnie Hunt, and more.
Pixar's always been at the forefront of CGI animation, consistently besting their competitors, and Toy Story 3
is no exception. The fur on Andy's dog and the fabric of Lotso's face are so detailed that they blow away all previous efforts in that department. The daycare is a smorgasbord, a true visual feast. Human characters are less cartoonish than in Wall-E
, but are never in danger of falling to the uncanny valley. Toy Story 3
may not be Pixar's most visually impressive film (that would be Wall-E
), it never fails to impress.
If I had one criticism of Toy Story 2, it was of the second act montage, where Jessie remembers her previous owner abandoning her. Set to a cloying song, the whole sequence screamed "Tear jerker." Even worse, practically every Disney animated film from that point forward has contained a rip-off of said sequence, turning it into a bad joke. Thankfully, Toy Story 3 does not stoop to such cheap tactics. However, that doesn't mean the film is devoid of emotion. In fact, it's the most emotionally intense of the three movies, but it does this by making us feel for the characters and their plight, not by manipulating the audience. If you walk out of this movie with dry eyes, then I have to question whether you actually have a heart.
Toy Story 3 is everything I could have asked for: Funny, entertaining, beautiful to look at, and cathartic. Newcomers will be able to enjoy this entry, but it's really made for those of us who grew up alongside the previous two films. Looking back on Andy's life, we're able to see our own. After all, how many of us have old childhood toys sitting somewhere in a closet or an attic? Toy Story 3 isn't just for the kid in all of us, it's for the grown-ups who remember what it's like to be a kid, and who remember what it feels like to grow up, but not grow old.