At this point in time Pixar has become much more than a brand. It’s become a powerhouse at the box office and a mark of quality. All of that started with Toy Story back in 1995. It was cute, it was funny, it was entertaining, but more than anything else it proved that computer graphics were worthy of the big screen. In light of what Pixar has accomplished since then the original feels somewhat light and disposable (though only by comparison.) Toy Story 2 upped the ante on every level and brought in some wonderful emotional layers to the life of a toy. Toy Story 3 delves even further into the darker side of being a toy: when a child grows up and not longer plays with their toys what future is there for those play things? Pixar explores this question in a way that is entertaining, thoughtful and at times very moving.
As Toy Story 3 opens Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks,) Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) and all of their friends have spent the last several years virtually ignored in their own Andy’s (voice by John Morris) toy chest. Andy has grown up and is only days away from leaving home for college. It would seem that the best that his toys have to hope for is a dormant existence in the attic until they’re needed again (if ever.) However due an unexpected turn of events the toys find themselves donated to a local day care. At first the day care seems like an ideal situation. Andy’s toys make new friends (including a Ken doll voiced by Michael Keaton and a large stuff bear named Lotso voiced by Ned Beatty) and the day care looks to be a place where the neglected toys will finally be played with again. Things don’t go as smoothly as that though when it turns out the new arrivals have been stuck with the toddlers, who enthusiastically abuse them as only very young children can. The toys realize that they have to escape Sunnyside Day Care but with their owner having moved on is there a future for them anywhere even if they can escape?
As would be expected of any Pixar production the cast and animation of Toy Story 3 are both wonderful. All of the returning cast members are right at home in their rolls and all of them have at least one moment of their own in which to shine. Given the size of the returning cast plus all of the new comers it’s quite impressive that nobody feels like a third wheel. Of the new characters by far the most memorable is Ken as voiced by Michael Keaton. As would be expected the interplay between Ken and Barbie gets a fair amount of play, and it’s all hilarious. Even on his own Ken has quite a bit going for him with his over developed sense of fashion. There’s thankfully surprisingly few jokes that are hold overs from the earlier films so it’s all fun and fresh. Even the few that are repeats, such as Buzz thinking he’s not a toy again, are given a new twist to keep them interesting. The visual pallet is a bit darker than before, but that’s fitting of the story being told. As with most computer animated movies this is being presented in 3-D. The 3-D is engaging but never intrusive. As they did with Up, Pixar is using the 3-D to deepen the screen, not throw things out at the audience.
There’s a surprising amount questioning at the heart of Toy Story 3. The big question being “is the toys’ relationship with Andy worth the inevitable heartbreak that comes when he’s too old to play with them?” It’s a question that was first raised in Jessie’s (voiced by Joan Cusack) memorable montage in Toy Story 2 and what’s going on in this film are a logical extension of that question. The toys find themselves facing a short list of equally uninviting fates (going to the attic, being thrown away, being donated, etc.) There actually is a slight lack of hope, as only Woody holds onto the belief that Andy won’t forget them (and the facts often don’t back him up.) Given that as far as Andy is concerned the toys have gone past their useful life and are now more items of nostalgia there’s a palpable feeling of melancholy running throughout the film. It never quite crosses the line into depressing, rather the movie balances on that line in a way that gives it a darker feel from the first two films but doesn’t completely sacrifice the fun.
As far as a trilogy of films goes Toy Story3 is the logical progression, delving rather heavily into the more adult themes that were first introduced in Toy Story 2. By adult themes I don’t mean something as cheap as violence or adult humor. Rather the film is adult in the way that it questions the character’s place and purpose in life and the possible futures it offers them are almost equally bleak. There’s a lack of safety net in the film and it does feel as though it’s a genuine possibility that things could end very badly for the heroes. It’s this lack of certainty that everything is going to be ok that makes this the most adult of the three films in the series. There’s still plenty of fun and world class slapstick to keep the film moving but there’s a much darker movie lurking underneath all the pleasantries and threatening to turn everything sour. Thankfully that sense of darkness is just that: a sense. It never overwhelms the film completely and the moments of goofy fun are carefully paced to boost the audience out of a potential funk at just the right moment.
While Toy Story 3 isn’t quite the joy ride that the first two films were it has a greater degree of depth, reveling in deep layers that were first shown in Toy Story 2 and were barely hinted at in the original Toy Story. In an odd way that new depth makes the final experience just a touch less enjoyable than the second one on a surface level but ultimately just as satisfying by the end. This entry stands above the original but slightly behind the second entry, if only because the trip to the conclusion was a little more fun the second time. That shouldn’t do anything to tarnish the impressive achievement this film is, and it definitely much more than just another kids movie.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5