Toy Story 3
4 out of 4 stars
Fifteen years after the original ‘Toy Story’, Woody and Buzz have returned for their most moving and heartfelt adventure to date. One of the greatest animated films ever released, ‘Toy Story 3’ is an undisputed masterpiece thanks to its riveting story, breathtaking animation, and emotional subtext regarding the passing of time and short-lived nature of childhood. Even adults and teen audiences will be undoubtedly be enthralled by the enchantments on offer in Pixar’s latest achievement.
Set eleven years after ‘Toy Story 2’, the film begins with a 17 year old Andy busily packing his bags for college, much to his family’s joy. For toys such as cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), talking piggy-bank Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and glamour girl Barbie (Jodi Benson) however, the news couldn’t be worse. After Andy leaves, they’re to be packed away in a box and left in the attic, never to be played with again. To add insult to the injury, Andy’s mother mistakenly places them in a garbage bag, resulting in them nearly being driven to a local dump and incinerated.
Frustrated and disheartened by their situation, the gang decides to take their last available option: moving to Sunnyside Day-care, an orphanage for old and abandoned toys. Although Woody and Buzz have their misgivings, the group is reassured by the centre’s seemingly kind leader Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty) and his quirky assistant Ken (Michael Keaton), who promises them a never-ending paradise of fun and playtime.
However, Sunnyside’s pleasant exterior masks a sinister secret, as the group soon discover. Contrary to its public image, the centre is actually an authoritarian jail in which Lotso torments the toys mentally and physically, imprisoning them inside the building’s grounds and brutally crushing any revolts against his rule. Horrified by Lotso’s activities and determined to return to Andy, Woody and company hatch a daring escape plan, one which will test the furthest limits of their courage and friendship.
One of the film’s largest strengths is its sweeping story, which supposedly took ten years for Pixar to create. An epic adventure in the vein of ‘Gone with the Wind’ or ‘The Great Escape’, ‘Toy Story 3’ effortlessly blends elements of multiple genres including drama, romance, action, comedy, and even mild horror, taking the audience on a colossal journey which will resonate with them long after the curtains close. From the fantasy Western shoot-out which opens the film or the toys’ heart-breaking reunion with Andy, ‘Toy Story 3’ consistently engages both the heart and senses of the viewer.
Like all successful sequels, ‘Toy Story 3’ also benefits greatly from exploring the growth and development of a familiar cast of characters. Since 1995, principal characters Woody and Buzz have become two of the most beloved figures in pop culture, becoming household names to millions of parents and children worldwide. Even minor characters such as Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) and Rex the Dinosaur (Wallace Shawn) were popular enough to spawn their own toys. As such, it’s a welcome pleasure to see them re-united on the screen again, especially after such a long absence.
Unlike the recent ‘Shrek’ films though, ‘Toy Story 3’ isn’t content to merely rest on its laurels and mimic previous entries in the series. Although some minor characters exist solely for comic effect, central characters Woody, Buzz, and Jessie all go through numerous touching coming-of-age experiences, paralleling Andy’s own maturing process as he leaves for college. In an era where poorly written live-action characters often resemble cartoons themselves, it’s refreshing to see a group of animated characters portrayed in such a realistic and human manner.
In addition, several new characters also have a chance to leave their mark on the franchise. As the main antagonist, Ned Beatty’s Lotso is as despicable as Nurse Ratched in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, hiding a chilling sadism behind his pink fur and grandfatherly voice. Conversely, Michael Keaton turns in a hilarious performance as Ken, the handsome, smooth-talking, yet uncannily feminine love interest of Barbie. A parody of sex symbols such as Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron, Ken imbues the movie with much of its humour, providing a refreshing balance to the movie’s more emotional scenes.
As is expected from any Pixar film, the animation is truly phenomenal, easily matching the impact of any live-action film. During set pieces such as the toy’s frantic fight survival in a garbage dump or Woody’ daring aerial escape from Sunnyside, the audience truly feels as if they are right in the midst of the film’s breathtaking action. This is even truer during the film’s dramatic scenes, where the photo-realistic facial expressions of the characters make every setback and triumph ever more emotional and affecting.
Most importantly, ‘Toy Story 3’ is simply one of the most emotionally charged films of its genre. If Disney classics such as ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Aladdin’ celebrated the wonder of childhood at its peak, ‘Toy Story 3’ is a final, introspective look at the past, a bittersweet tale of growing up and ultimately leaving childhood behind. When the journey is finally brought full circle and the film’s ending arrives, it is one of the most moving sequences ever committed to film, flawlessly ending the trilogy in a manner so honest and heartfelt that it will stun most viewers who watch it. Not since ‘The Lord of the Rings’ came to a grand end in 2003 has a series concluded in such a powerful and evocative way.
A true family classic, ‘Toy Story 3’ is an outstanding conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies in film. Such is it ambition and scope that adult and teen audiences will arguably enjoy it more than its target demographic, most of who will have to wait a few extra years before they can fully grasp the wonder of what they have seen. Once again, Pixar has stepped well past their call of duty and created a masterpiece in the process.