When you’re someone who historically hasn’t been a fan of a particular series, it’s difficult to find excitement for its third installment. When the original Toy Story came out, I was of the age where I found animated films to be totally uncool, and by the time the sequel was released I had lost interest in seeing either movie. While I eventually saw both, I was never hugely excited about watching them.
When Toy Story 3 came out, the story was no different. Still, with a group of guys in a theater in Hollywood I sat, watching an animated film in theaters for the first time in years. I wasn’t entirely excited to be there, but within minutes I was in conversation with the past me, asking, “What was your problem?”
Toy Story 3 comes over ten years after the last entry in the series and joins main character Andy during the summer before his departure to college. As he finally begins his last-minute cleaning and packing, he struggles to decide what to do with Woody, Buzz, and the rest of his beloved toys. An unfortunate garbage bag mistake sends the toys on a grand adventure that requires them to break out of a prison-like day-care center and come to terms with their reduced role in their owner’s life.
When you boil the film down to its most basic elements, this is simply a prison break story. The toys receive poor treatment at Sunny Side Daycare, battle with an evil warden, and develop an elaborate plan to escape. If you wanted to complain that the film was unoriginal because of this, you certainly could.
However, it would also mean that you’re ignoring just how comprehensively the story is told and just how much heart and loving detail is placed into the storytelling. Characters, old and new, are explored with more detail than ever before. The main villain, a huggable but ruthless bear named Lotso, is given an extensive backstory that makes him relatable even in the face of his repeated betrayals.
Familiar characters are also given some great new twists. One of the most memorable moments of the film comes when Buzz is accidentally put into “Spanish mode.” While watching Buzz dance around and ramble in Spanish is hilarious, the masterful storytelling uses this simple joke to further the relationship between Buzz and Jessie.
While the humor is to be expected, the rather dark tone of the film is quite surprising. Really, the entire film is all about fear and death, and in some cases, these are explored in very direct ways. One scene near the end of the film is incredibly shocking in just how dark it is, and it will make you think, if only for a moment, that the film is going to turn into a tragedy.
The real purpose, however, is simply to explore the themes of attachment — attachment to our valued possessions, to our friends, to ourselves, and to our own personal traditions. If anything, these themes are going to connect with adult audiences far more than young viewers, and the way the film connects with the audience is simply beautiful. The conclusion is stunning, not only wrapping up the Toy Story saga perfectly but also finding an entirely new way to appeal to fans’ connection to the series.
Toy Story 3 is also the most visually impressive film in the studio’s history. The visuals are remarkably detailed in each of the varied environments, and characters animate with more impressive realism than ever before. The traditional Toy Story style has truly been perfected with this film.
For me, the most impressive thing about Toy Story 3 is just how easily it affected me despite my status as a non-fan of the series. The story told isn’t one of striking originality, but I can think of few traditional stories that have been told with such care and attention to all its potential viewers. This is as much a film for the Toy Story fan as it is for the Toy Story uninitiated, and it should absolutely be seen by everyone — especially adults.
Overall Score: 8.85 – Spectacular. (Movies that score between 8.50 and 9.00 are some of the best films its genre has ever created, and fans of any genre will thoroughly enjoy them.)
Toy Story 3 is one of the year’s best films and one of the best animated films ever made. Its themes of love, death, and attachment appeal far more to adults than to kids, and its masterful storytelling and genuinely funny comedy make it a film that everyone should see.
Overall Score: 8.50 – Spectacular. There are numerous reasons why Pixar is one of the top studios in the film industry, and Toy Story 3 is one of them. Like most people my age, I essentially grew up with Woody and Buzz the same way Andy did. And, just like Andy, we all had to say goodbye to our great friends, but not without one final adventure. Not to cause a jinx or anything, but if Pixar were to have peaked with Toy Story 3, I’d be perfectly okay with it.