Toy Story 3:
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Released in 2010
As the final scene of Toy Story 3 faded into black, I was bombarded by a deluge of emotions and thoughts. First off, what a phenomenal film, I said to myself. Everyone around me seemed to unanimously agree. Then, I realized how relieved I was that Pixar, the master at animation with an impeccable lineup of feature films and digital shorts, has been channeling their power into good instead of evil. Because if this studio, which has achieved the impossible by making not only an excellent, but the best entry in a beloved series with the third installment, focused their powers on the diabolical then we would all be hopeless. I would gather that I was alone in that sentiment. No matter. The mad geniuses at Pixar have created what, dare I say it, may be their best film yet with Toy Story 3. They take everything they do well - humor, adventure and, of course, tear-jerking sentimentality - and ratchet it up to the tenth degree.
Everyone knows the general premise of the Toy Story films: a diverse collection of toys come to life when humans are not around. It is a brilliant concept, something everyone as a child must have wondered. It worked for the groundbreaking first film, as well as the sequel which held its ground and then some. Now for the third and supposedly last entry in the trilogy, the toys' owner, Andy, is moving off to college, leaving the expressive pieces of plastic to an uncertain fate. Andy's favorite, and the rightful protagonist, Woody tries to rally the crew to take refuge in the attic, where Andy assigned them. However, the idea of "Sunnyside" Day Care sounds much more enticing, and here the rest of the toys happily spend their time until they realize this is not the synthetic nirvana they hoped for. The story flows seamlessly, even if it is broken into a number of "acts," per se. There is a surprising variety of settings and conflicts the toys get themselves in, but the true scope of the film does not come into perspective until post-analysis, as the movie just rolls along uninhibited.
Like any Pixar film, the voice talent is stellar. In Toy Story's case, however, it is has always been a degree above the rest. Tom Hanks returns with wit and soulful longing as Woody. His character has been a premier example of the emotional depth animated characters can hold since the series' inception, and this time Woody is even more conflicted, more layered, more multi-faceted. He has learned not to expect Andy's attention anymore, but to nobly surrender his arms and face his doubtful fate, akin to a discharged soldier. By his side is Buzz Lightyear, Tim Allen once again, though more subdued than before. A few malfunctions and some romantic tension keep Buzz in the spotlight, though he shares it with the rest of the cast to a greater extent this time around. Among those around him are cowgirl Jessie (a spirited Joan Cusack), sarcastic Hamm (Pixar staple John Ratzenberger), the dim but sweet Rex (Wallace Shawn) and the finest casting decisions of all, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, voiced by the Master of Venom himself, Don Rickles, and Estelle Harris of Seinfeld fame, respectively. These returning favorites all provide inspired performances, and prove once more to be lovable, vivid characters.
Joining the established cast is a new band of superb characters. Leading is the strawberry-smelling Lots-o-Huggin', or Lotso for short. His chill Southern drawl and penchant for bear hugs means he can only be good, right? Voiced by a hearty, impassioned Ned Beatty, Lotso is the ringleader of the day care's toys, and his warm facade hides a dark past. This backstory is beautifully told through a narrated flashback (by a memorable Chuckles The Clown no less), and establishes Lotso as one of the richest characters in the Pixar canon. Some of his cohorts include a glittery octopus with Whoopi Goldberg's voice, a freaky baby doll, and Ken from Barbie. Ken, played by Michael Keaton, consistently reveals himself to be the feminine fashionista he is, even when adopting a tough guy attitude. He melts at the first sight of Barbie, and awkward scenes such as this and the bookworm (Richard Kind) encounter make his character nowhere near as psychologically complex as others but a key figure for comic relief.
And much comedy there is to be had. Toy Story 3 is surprisingly hilarious; one of the funniest movies I have seen in some time, in fact. The laughs remain G-rated but will probably appeal to adults more than kids. Of course, there are some clever sight gags, including a brilliant scene involving Mr. Potato Head and a tortilla, but Hamm's unexplained, precise musings on technology, and allusions to classic films like The Great Escape and The Exorcist make this film comical to a nearly universal audience. Apparently a portion of this audience is located in Spain and Latin America, as Buzz has a moment with the Spanish language, complete with subtitles. This scene is both respectful to the Hispanic culture as well as completely priceless, dance moves and all. Coming from a different culture is the thespian, high-brow Mr. Pricklepants, voiced by Timothy Dalton. It is amusing as he believes he is "acting" when his owner plays with him, and tries to stay in character even when said owner is absent. The laughs in this film come at a constant pace, and make for the funniest Pixar film yet.
What is perhaps most impressive about this film, however, is how well it balances all of the emotions it stirs. The frequent moments of hilarity do not in any way mitigate the impact of the suspense or sadness this film presents. Tender, touching scenes have been a skill of Pixar's, seen in the near-perfect intros to both Wall-E and Up, and this film once again reaffirms their prowess. The general premise of physical atrophy and mental maturity present far more austere dilemmas than in the previous Toy Story films. The toys can save the day and make it back to Andy's house, but instead of being greeted by a youthful boy's grasp, they face a dank attic, or worse. The main reason I believe this film affected me so deeply is because, in a sense, it is presenting my story. I am just a little younger than Andy on screen, and I spent my youthful days absorbed in imagining preposterous scenarios, or playing with an overwhelming multitude of toys. Now, I am faced with circumstances that are anything but quixotic dreams: SATs, college admissions, declaring a major, and deciding what I really want to do with my life. Andy and I shared those innocent days together, but now we mutually have to move forward, to grow up. Anyone in my age group will draw the same parallels, and suddenly the massive time gap between the second and third Toy Story does not seem like an unnecessarily prolonged wait but, simply, aging. It is so basic yet so beautiful in a way; this film arises both the most progressive and nostalgic senses in me.
There is no doubt that the timing of this film's release is perfect for me, but the emotional resonance will strike anyone. Parents will be wrecked, as shown in that scene of pure simplicity involving Andy's mom and his empty room. There is also a scene near the end, which I will not spoil, that may catch some off-guard, as it may initially seem immature. But, just like a somewhat similar film Where The Wild Things Are, this scene captures the inner child in all of us, showing the immortality of imagination. The introduction montage to Up may be a more condensed, beautiful scene of emotional perfection, but a number of scenes in this film rival anything Pixar has done before. As a whole, it may be their most affecting movie yet. And it is also the funniest! Again, the balance between the two is flawless; neither side is adversely affected by the other. Anyone with a pulse will be somewhat moved by this movie, some more than others, and it is truly an outstanding feat that this remarkable depth of the human psyche is conveyed through computer animation alone.
It is also worth mentioning the traditional digital short that precedes the feature film. Called Day + Night, the short is, unsurprisingly, superb as well as extremely innovative. Combining 2D, hand-drawn animation and 3D Pixar animation, this film is set on a blank, black backdrop with only two mute cartoon characters. The inside of their bodies is filled with a CGI day or night setting, and all of their actions are performed through natural actions. For example, urinating is sensibly conveyed by a running river (complete with a blissful face expression), and quacking ducks symbolize laughing. The short is merely about these two, disparate beings interacting with each other, and the end result is a touching, humorous experience that is unlike you have ever seen before. The short's appearance is so shocking, in fact, that it may take a few seconds to even realize what it is going on on-screen. Day + Night is an original, charming short film, and a fitting lead-in to the main attraction.
So, Pixar has done it again. Toy Story 3 is an achievement in animated storytelling, and a laugh riot in itself. Third installments in movie series, especially animated ones, are typically a sad occasion, when the quality and reputation of the previous episodes are thrown out the window. Not so for Toy Story 3: everything that made the first two films modern classics is improved and polished. This is a seriously funny film, one that will make anyone of any age, race or creed laugh throughout. This is also a thrilling film, filled with suspense and that rolling sense of adventure that makes the Toy Story films so appealing to adults and children alike. This is also a sad film. Not in the lugubrious, doleful sense but in a bittersweet manner. Because beneath the animated guise and entire premise about walking, talking, independently-minded toys, lies something real. It is the most intrinsic concept in our human existence: growing up. Every single human, living creature, even cell in the world goes through this process, yet a computer-generated, 3D, $190 million budget film captures it beautifully. Toy Story 3 will stick with you, occupying your mind as you stroll down life's finite road yourself.
5 Stars Out of 5