Originally Reviewed – 7/4/2010
Being the flagship franchise in the impressive library of Pixar vehicles, Toy Story 3 has a lot of pressure on it. Each film in the series has mirrored the state of the company in some way; the original film from 1995 was the first fully computer animated film ever to be released and Toy Story 2, originally marked to be a 60 minute straight to DVD affair, marked Pixar’s first run in with Disney, prompting a 6 year love/hate relationship with the company. Now, with Toy Story 3, Pixar is the top dog amongst animation companies, Disney now owns the former software developer and with films like Wall-E and Up, Pixar is changing what people expect from computer generated films. With Wall-E and Up, Pixar has finally created films that emotionally connect on a number of levels and Toy Story 3 marks the first time Pixar has done so with an established property, taking the series from simply cute and fun to a level reserved for the best comedic dramas. The result is the best film in the franchise and one the best movies of the year.
The story of Toy Story 3 picks up ten years after the events of Toy Story 2; Andy is getting ready to leave for college and the toys, now relegated to the old toy bin when Andy is around, are trying anything they can to get face time with their owner. The setup is a touch sad and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Not to say the film is a total bummer or anything but the film has a much darker, realistic tone than any of the previous films in the series. While there are moments of pure hilarity, most of the time I found myself connecting emotionally with Buzz and pals; rooting for them when they were in trouble, empathizing when they were ruminating about the passage of time and wanting them to succeed even when the odds were against them. For the first time in the franchise, the toys actually emoted on a human level and the results are astounding.
Of course, heartfelt playthings would be nothing without a good story to support them and Toy Story 3 provides that story in spades. With the introduction of the lovable yet twisted Lotso, voiced wonderfully by Ned Beatty, the film has one of the best adversaries in the series, giving the toys someone to battle against as opposed to someone to run from, avoid or rescue. The subtext of Andy moving to college also gives the film a real sense of loss and uncertainty, something we always figured would happen to Andy’s toys but never thought we’d actually see. Mix that with some fine action, some hilarious sight gags and the sense of exploration that only Toy Story can provide and you have a well crafted tale that will have you talking and thinking for days to come.
The voice acting is as top notch as ever, with Hanks, Allen and the whole crew back for one more run around the playground. The additions of Beatty as the aforementioned Lotso and Bud Luckey as the scene stealing plastic clown, Chuckles, add some flair to the usual cast of characters. The animation is also top of the line, making the original Toy Story look like a student project in comparison. The 3D aspect of the film is, however, hit or miss. While I appreciated the depth and texture the extra field of vision provided, if you’re looking for things to start flying at you, this never happens, so you may want to watch the standard version if you want to save the extra four bucks. Also, some of the gags fall flat and the middle third starts to lag and repeat itself, but the final 20 minutes are so good and so wrenching, you will completely forget any minor quibbles you may have with the film. If you thought the first 10 minutes of Up was good, wait until the end of Toy Story 3. While I wasn’t reaching for the tissues or anything, it put a swell in my heart that’s pretty uncommon in the realm of animated movies.
With a great story, wonderful animation and the downward arc of a group of characters we have loved for fifteen years, Toy Story 3 is a wonderful third (and hopefully final) stanza of a beloved film franchise. Pixar has finally reached the point where they now can create animated films that connect emotionally with audiences in ways only thought possible by conventional cinema and Toy Story 3 is the culmination of that progression. If Toy Story 3 is the final film in the series, then it should be remembered as the beginning of an era, an era where a huge commercial entity showed the world that a sequel doesn’t have to be pointless regurgitation; it can elevate an art form. Sequels have often been thought of in term of diminishing returns, but Toy Story 3 bucks that tradition and provides a sequel that not only trumps the originals but redefines what sequels are supposed be. If Toy Story 3 is any indication of what we can expect in the future from Pixar, we can feel confident that the company will continue to push the filmmaking envelope by providing us new worlds to explore, stories to enjoy and characters to fall in love with.
Score – 100%