From the original Toy Story in 1995 to last year’s Oscar-nominated Best Picture Up, it’s nearly impossible to find fault with Pixar Animation Studios. They’ve hit 10 straight feature films out of the park, none of which you can call anything less than a timeless classic. If Toy Story 3 was the film that broke the studio’s winning streak I would have not only felt obligated to quit my job as a movie critic but, perhaps, boycott the cinema altogether. Like Return of the Jedi and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Toy Story 3 is one of the few threequels that not only lives up to its predecessors but makes its previous installments even better.
We’ve been getting a lot of unnecessary animated follow-ups lately, such as the previous two Shrek sequels, a third Ice Age picture, and countless of straight to DVD Disney features. Pixar could have easily taken a half-day on Toy Story 3, confident that it would make $300 million despite its quality. But first-time director Lee Unkirch, co-screenwriter Michael Arndt of Little Miss Sunshine and the hundreds of storytellers and animators at Pixar settled for nothing less than perfection with this sequel, completing what is unarguably the premium trilogy of animation.
The movie commences in the Old West where the unstoppable team of Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear rescue a train of Troll orphans from the evil One-eyed Bart aka Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Porkchop aka Ham the piggybank. It’s then revealed to just be young Andy at play, for only a child could envision a Western with not only cowboys but also space rangers, green dinosaurs, slinky dogs and talking potatoes. Ten years or so later, Andy has matured into a teenager preparing to leave for college. He has given away many of his toys such as Bo-Peep and Wheezy the Penguin. However, he still keeps his most adored childhood toys stashed away in his old toy chest.
After a series of mishaps the toys end up at Sunnyside, a daycare center run by a cuddly pink bear with a Strawberry scent named Lotso, voiced by Ned Beatty. The place seems like paradise for a toy because every time one group of kids grows old another batch comes in. Everything appears to have worked out for the best until the toys realize the toddlers at daycare are more interested in dipping toys in paint rather than playing with them. Sunnyside turns out to be more like a prison that makes the mental institution in Shutter Island look like the fun-loving jailhouse in Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard.
Toy Story 3 is full of hilarious running-gags such as when Mr. Potato Head loses his potato body and must use a tortilla to improvise. There’s also a sidesplitting sequence in which Buzz is reset and takes on the persona of a Spanish soap opera star. We even get a cameo from a renowned Hayao Miyazaki character. And at long last Barbie finds her ideal mate in Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton, a fashionable and groovy bachelor who insists he is not a girl’s toy. It’s love at first sight for Barbie and Ken, instantly realizing they’re made for each other. Aside from Toy Story 3 getting a Best Picture nomination, nothing would make me happier come next January than Keaton receiving a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his remarkable voiceover performance.
I walk into almost all animated films confident that everything is going to work out for the best. Toy Story 3 is the first animated feature in a long time though that truly left me holding my breath in suspense, wondering how the heroes would overcome this predicament. I felt as if I were a boy again when I actually wasn’t sure if Snow White and her prince would live happily ever after. It all leads up to a pitch-perfect final five minutes that I guarantee will leave audiences of all ages choked up.
I remember witnessing the first Toy Story as a 5-year-old. Seeing Toy Story 3 as a college student makes me reflect on the toys I’ve possessed over the years, many of which I’ve sold at garage sales and others I still keep on display at my parent’s house. When you’re a kid, a favorite toy is more than just a piece of plastic. It’s your best friend. No matter how old you become, it’s never easy to let go of a treasured toy. Toy Story 3 and the entire Toy Story franchise epitomizes the joy of playing with a toy, the guilt of loosing or mistreating a toy, and the heartbreaking day when you pass on that toy to someone else. We never consider, though, that letting go can be even harder for a toy than it is for the owner. Toy Story 3 is about as clever, heartfelt and, above all, wise as any film Pixar has made to date. After years of legal disputes and attempts to get the project off the ground, the third chapter of Toy Story was well worth the wait.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past five years, reviewing movies on his website, http://www.freewebs.com/radman_ns. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.