Pixar is perhaps the greatest mystery in all of Hollywood. The consistent quality of each and every film they release is like nothing the industry has ever seen. You could say something similar about someone like James Cameron, who more or less never produces a miss, but Pixar doesn’t wait decades to release a new critically acclaimed blockbuster, it’s something they do literally ever single year, and they show absolutely no signs of slowing down judging by their latest offering, Toy Story 3.
I have a hunch that if a team of scientists studied Pixar’s entire catalog, they might come up with some secret, magic formula that Pixar has embedded in each of their films to achieve such quality on a regular basis, but until that study gets funding, I guess we’ll just have to sit back and accept the miracle for what it is.
And now, with Pixar heading back to the franchise that started it all, it’s clear that the company is not only still on their game after over a decade, but have perhaps reached a new peak most wouldn’t even think was possible. By doing so with the third installment in a trilogy is especially impressive, as those chapters are notorious for falling short of their predecessors, but Toy Story 3 is no mere sequel, it’s a masterpiece in its own right.
It’s been more than eleven years since Toy Story 2 was released, and many feared that Toy Story 3 would be a “Shrek-like” way to cash in on a once beloved franchise with an unnecessary sequel. After all, most loose ends appeared to be tied up in the last film, why would we need to go back when everything was just fine?
Well, as it turns out, it’s also been a decade in the Toy Story world as well, and the passing of time has the toys confronted with something they never thought they’d have to deal with, uselessness.
Toy Story 3 is a very adult movie in a lot of ways. Pixar has a great way of infusing colorful visuals and humor with real emotion, and the great tragedy of the film here is the theme of aging. I felt quite old myself, sitting in the theater, watching a tired old dachshund saunter around the house, remembering when he was just a puppy like it was yesterday, and not eleven years ago.
But Buster isn’t the only one who’s grown up, Andy has too, and is about to head off to college. The film’s opening scene is desperately sad, with the toys organizing a mission to steal Andy’s cell phone and hide it in their toy chest, so when it rings he’ll open it up, see all his old friends, and hopefully play with them one last time.
Sadly, Andy only pays them passing notice, and Woody tries to give a motivational speech to the few remaining crew that the attic won’t be so bad once their owner moves along. Only the core group of toys remains, as we learn that tragically everyone else has been broken or sold at yard sales over the years, even Woody’s beloved Bo Peep.
Through a series of unfortunate events, the toys head to the attic, then are redirected to the trash on the curb, then escape that fate and end up in a donation box to a local day care.
Upon their arrival, the toys are greeted by what seems to be heaven for outgrown playthings. Endless amounts of kids stream in year after year and lovingly play with the toys each and every day. And seemingly not jealous of the new recruits at all, Andy’s toys are welcomed like family into the current daycare toy group, led by a cuddly purple bear named Lotso.
But things soon take a dark turn, and Andy’s toys are tricked into living in an adjacent part of the daycare where a younger set of toddlers beat the living hell out of them day in and day out. The original toys turn out to have a nefarious scheme to sacrifice new toys to the youngsters, so that they can keep playing with the more gentle kids down the hall.
Woody spearheads a rescue attempt that has the toys sprinting all around the day care and away from Lotso’s minions. The chase actually ends with them in the city dump, and the toys fight for survival in one of the scariest series of scenes I can remember seeing in a movie, much less one aimed at kids.
This film is incredibly dark in a lot of ways, something you would not expect from a G-rated Pixar adventure. Sure, the original Toy Story had its black moments with sadistic Sid the terrible ripping the heads off toys and threatening them with explosives and lighter fluid. But it’s a more mature kind of darkness here, one that starts with those initial scenes about lost loved ones and outliving usefulness. It carries through the middle where the day care toys have turned to barbarism and incarceration to keep their inferiors in line, and goes straight through to the nail-biting conclusion.
The climax has some really intense moments for a G-rated kids movie that are genuinely terrifying and hopeless. There’s a scene in particular that I’m pretty sure will stay with me forever where the toys are sliding down a mountain of trash toward what appears to be a fiery gateway to hell, but is actually a trash incinerator. Out of options, with nowhere to go, they simply hold hands, smile at one another and embrace their inevitable doom. This is TOY STORY right?
Though the film has a lot of dark moments throughout, those emotions of fear and sorrow are turned completely upside down by the film’s conclusion, which grants us an exceptionally satisfying happy ending like any true kids movie must have. Pixar is a master of making these types of conclusions not feel forced, and even though all hope seems lost for a long time in the film, they’re effectively able to reverse all that with an emotional knockout of a finale, one that will likely move many to tears.
It would have been easy for Pixar to just throw together all our favorite characters in some relatively mundane plot that would still entertain children, but they went above and beyond, as they always do, and created a film that all ages will love. This film deserves all the praise its getting, and dare I say, a serious shot at the best picture crown come Oscar season.
5 out of 5 stars