Things were simpler in the early 90’s. Hollywood worked the way it always had. We had our dramas. We had our comedies. We had our romances. We also had our animated movies, a group of films largely meant to be for children. Most were hand drawn with perhaps a few touch ups from our friendly computers. Then in 1995, along came a little company called Pixar with Toy Story, a film that completely redefined what we could expect from animation, making it a smash hit. Being the first fully computer animated movie certainly helped its cause, but it also provided a story that could be understood and loved by any age, finally proving that animation wasn’t just for children. Four years later, Pixar topped themselves with Toy Story 2. Now eleven years later, it looks like they’ve done it again with the marvelous Toy Story 3, which is easily one of the best films of the year, animated or otherwise.
Andy (John Morris), now grown-up since we last saw him, is about to head to college. His toys he used to have so much fun with have sat in a trunk in his room for the last few years. It seems he’s simply outgrown them. His mother (Laurie Metcalf) explains to him that when he leaves for college, she wants all of his stuff out, including his toys. He needs to stash them up in the attic, throw them out, or take them with him to college, so he makes the decision to take his favorite toy Woody (Tom Hanks) with him while his other toys collect dust. He unwisely packs them in a trash bag, however, and his mother throws them out, but instead of being demolished they end up at Sunnyside Day-Care where they are promised attention from a seemingly gentle teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty). But not all is as it seems and the day-care becomes more like a prison. So now Buzz (Tim Allen), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and the rest of the gang devise a breakout plan under Woody’s supervision, hoping to get home before Andy leaves without him.
When I was a child, I had a very active imagination. Just like the kids in these movies, I used to cherish my toys and play with them as if they were alive. They were my best friends. I used to wonder what they did when they were alone. I wanted to believe they had their own little world outside of my playtime with them and sprang to life when I was gone. Therein lies the brilliance of the original Toy Story. Never before had I seen my thoughts and wonders as a child translated so faithfully. Now I’m an adult. I live in the adult world. I have an adult schedule and I have adult bills to pay. I haven’t even seen my old toys in many years, much less played with them, but for the first time in a very long while, I can feel my imagination springing to life. Toy Story 3 is one of those films that reminds you what it’s like to be a child, jumping and running and having the time of your life. This is a special movie.
At a certain point in your life, you are pressured to give away your cherished possessions. All those dolls and action figures you spent countless hours with simply need to go. But if you’re like me, you felt guilty and simply refused to give them away (I have boxes of action figures under my bed). Like the previous movies, Toy Story 3 taps into this guilt, but its meaning goes much deeper. It’s about clinging onto those memories, but also helping others forge their own. It’s about growing up and learning valuable lessons. It’s about identity. It’s about family. It’s about a host of things that all get to the core of what it’s like to come into adulthood.
And it’s like that for all the characters—plastic, plush, furry or flesh. Woody, Buzz and the gang find their own revelations through the events that unfold. They love Andy and want to be with him, but things don’t seem to be going in that direction. The film's not so much about Andy giving them away, but rather them wanting to do what’s best for Andy. The final scene in this movie, a beautiful one that echoes how the adults in the audience will feel while watching it, wraps the trilogy up perfectly. It closes every door while giving just enough of a glimpse into the future so we know that the gang is in good hands.
Of course, everything before this climactic scene is a joy as well. It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s heartfelt. It’s what every movie should strive to be. It’s a juggling act of fear, anxiety, humor and tenderness and not a single ball falls. The fluidity of that hectic combination is masterful in itself. Add in the charming usage of sub-genres, including a story flip to what is essentially Escape from Alcatraz with toys, and you have a surefire winner for all ages.
Toy Story 3 is a delight, a tour de force of childlike imagination and spirit. This isn’t simply premature praise for what some may call a pleasant nostalgia trip. It’s much more than that. Toy Story 3 is truly terrific and will be cherished by generations to come.
Toy Story 3 receives 5/5