Too short of a review for you? Fair enough. How about this: The Toy Story films are quite possibly the greatest trilogy in the history of cinema. Okay, that might be too much praise, but it’s hard to discount their greatness as a whole. Each film builds on the other, a feat that is near impossible to achieve, especially if you consider the films are based on original screenplays and not adapted from another source (i.e., The Lord of the Rings). Some might call me out on the Star Wars trilogy. Yes, The Empire Strikes Back builds on the foundation set by Star Wars, but the quality of Return of the Jedi is a noticeable drop-off from the first two films. George Lucas would sully the saga even further with three more films. The guys at Pixar didn’t have a creative lapse when they made Toy Story 3.
The original Toy Story was a landmark moment for animated movies when it was released in 1995. Fifteen years later, and eleven years after the first sequel, Toy Story 2, Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the toys have returned to the screen for their most perilous adventure yet. It may echo themes and story developments from the previous films, but that’s to Pixar’s advantage. Toy Story 3 is not just a sequel for the sake of being a sequel; it’s the remaining chapters of a great book. Playing off of the previous entries, the payoff is the film’s final moments, which will be viewed differently depending on the age group. It is also a testament to the creative output of Pixar and why the studio is more respected than its closest competitors.
But while the ending cements the greatness of Toy Story 3, it offers so much more. The movie is funny, but not always in a laugh-out-loud sort of way. The humor is told visually, subversively, and hysterically. The comedy mixes with action to create a rousing adventure – the opening will have fans of action movies on top of locomotives smiling in delight. The geniuses at Pixar are so clever that beyond its visual flair their latest goes deeper in story and character with references to George Orwell’s Animal Farm and prison films like The Great Escape. Both references will fly over the heads of the under-ten demographic, but it won’t matter. Kids and adults will be gleefully entertained nonetheless.
The time has come for Andy (John Morris) to put away his anthropomorphic playthings (better known as toys) for good. He hasn’t played with Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang in years, but they’re still in his room, stored away in his toy chest. About to leave for college, his mom (Laurie Metcalf) wants him to clear out his room – toys and all. She doesn’t care what he does with the toys, she just wants them gone. Just like a mom, wanting him to clean his room one last time. Moms marvel at how quickly you’ve grown up until it comes time to getting rid of your old stuff. Then she wants it out of sight, out of mind. In our universe getting rid of old toys doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in the Toy Story universe we know better. The problem with toys is they never get old, so they could potentially outlast their owners. But what becomes of the toys when their owner is gone?
Andy, not quite ready to put them up on Ebay, bags them to go up in the attic, but they mistakenly end up at a daycare center called Sunnyside. Fortunately for them, Sunnyside looks like Club Med for toys. They’re guaranteed to be played with every day with kids way younger than Andy. And when those kids get too old new kids will take their place. The toys won’t have to fear being abandoned ever again. The Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), the strawberry-scented plush de-facto leader of all toys at Sunnyside, sums it up by telling Woody that “no owner means no heartbreak.” Hmmm, would that be the opposite of saying “is it better to have loved and lost to have never loved at all”?
Woody disagrees with Lots-‘O; he loves Andy and will stop at nothing to get back to the house before he leaves for college. His toy cohorts don’t share his sentiments. Buzz, Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, replacing the late Jim Varney), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Rex (Wallace Shawn) are under the assumption that Andy deliberately put them in a trash bag to be thrown away. They love the atmosphere of Sunnyside, and Barbie (Jodi Benson) has an added incentive for wanting to stay at the daycare: a male doll named Ken (Michael Keaton).
The central mission to each Toy Story is getting back to Andy. Last time, it was the toys rescuing Woody to get to Andy. This time it feels a little like that but the stakes are raised even further, making it all that more powerful a movie. Like I said in my intro, the films build on the previous installment and now this is the final, epic adventure. The conclusion leaves the door open for another Toy Story, but if this is truly the last one then it is a hell of a way to go out.
All the credit in the world goes to the creative minds at Pixar starting with Lee Unkrich, who is flying solo in the director’s chair for the first time. Previously, he co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. John Lasseter, who has gone from directing the first Toy Story to a more managerial role at Pixar, and Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) came up with the story that was fleshed out further by its newest creative staff member, Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine). Together they have devised some great visuals and introduce some new toys – the best is the hedgehog, Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton with a thespian brogue).
It’s easy to be amused by animated movies, even ones featuring inanimate objects that talk and move when nobody’s around. It’s another thing to make an audience care for them. At the movie’s climax you are generally worried about their plights, hoping everything is okay in the end. After watching many movies where the lead character is unconvincing at showing trepidation each time he got himself into a pickle, I sit here empathizing with toys. And not even real ones, just very well done computer animated interpretations of toys. What’s wrong with me?
Every time Pixar releases a new movie I have come to expect greatness. Toy Story was their first movie that had a sequel. Toy Story 3 could have easily been a money grab for the studio and not live up to the other two. But Pixar has done something that other franchises have failed to do when it comes to the third entry. The creativity never diminishes. It starts with a great story and takes it to a level that’s way beyond infinity.
Director: Lee Unkrich Notable Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Michael Keaton, Ned Beatty, Laurie Metcalf, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg Writer(s): Michael Arndt
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!