Toy Story 3

Directed by Lee Unkrich • 2010

Toy Story 3 was a very important film to me before I even saw it. Toy Story (1995), Pixar’s feature film debut, was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. It wasn’t exactly a fun experience; I remember being scared by Sid’s dog and having to be dragged out of the theater by my parents. After that, I completely fell in love with Toy Story, owning a toy set of all the characters, dressing up as Woody for Halloween, and spending hours and hours at Preschool drawing my favorite scenes. Woody and Buzz became a part of my childhood just as much as Andy’s.

In some rare alignment of the stars, the plot of Toy Story 3 mirrors much of my present state: Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys find their owner going off to college. It is as though Pixar made this film for me and everyone who grew up watching this enduring series. It is like a send-off before we enter this new chapter in our lives, harkening us back to the days when joy and comfort could be sparked by something as simple as a toy.

It is unbelievable, then, that such a personal film could possibly meet my expectations. But this is Pixar we are talking about, a studio who in its 20 years of existence has yet to release one hackneyed, uninspired dud. Without a doubt, they are the most consistent filmmakers of the new millennium, and TS3 continues that streak. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but “Pixar has done it again!” TS3 not only expands the series to a grander scale, but also succeeds as a satisfying conclusion and arguably the best of the trilogy.

So what makes Toy Story 3 so great? First, it sticks to what has worked in the past films. One is the characters; TS3 reduces the cast of characters to only the most memorable while adding some great new ones. Another is variety; TS3 contains all the elements audiences love about movies: laugh-out-loud comedy, thrilling adventure, heart-pounding suspense, and a tear-jerker ending that would even have Chuck Norris holding back tears. It has everything you could want from a movie, and not a drop of blood or a boob in sight! Who ever said G-Rated films were just for kids? My audience contained mostly adults, and they were just as entertained, if not more, by TS3 than your run-of-the-mill R-film.

Now for the not-so-good: As greatly entertaining as TS3‘s may be, I realized 2/3rd’s of the way that all the Toy Story films have somewhat similar plots. All of them have to do with escape; in TS1, Buzz and Woody escaped from Sid’s house; in TS2 they escaped from Al’s Toy Barn; in TS3 they escape from a daycare center. It is the same story in different locations, which is perhaps why film critic Armond White complained about TS3 being “boring.” However, it is incorrect to boil TS3 down to just another “escape film.” This installment takes a darker turn, examining heavy themes like loneliness, rejection, and loss. Most significantly, it is a delicate tale about change, as these un-aging toys witness generations upon generations of children grow up. Stories like these are what elevate Pixar films above ordinary kids’ films.

I was also disappointed by the reduced role of Buzz Lightyear. Sure, there are many humerous scenes with him, most notably when he is reset to Spanish Buzz, but otherwise he is not the Buzz we know and love for most of the movie. Again, minor quips. Furthermore, although this is not Pixar’s fault, the film has been overhyped. It is not the #7 greatest film of all time as IMDB currently claims, nor is it the greatest animated film of all time as many are hailing it. The truth is that TS3 has become an “event film,” and like all “event films” (think last year’s Avatar[d]) they tend to be labeled with glowing hyperboles from bandwagon hoppers. I do not mean to detract from the film, because it really is damn good; it is just that you should not expect to walk into the theater and experience the second coming of Christ. Audiences will enjoy it. Fans, like myself, will love it.

The second half of the film is fantastic, with some surprisingly intense scenes even for me. I know this is a kid’s movie, but there are some action set pieces that are more suspenseful than anything I have seen in recent memory. There were many instances where I found myself gripping the armrests, thinking in panic, “Oh my god! How are they going to get out of this one?” But I cannot finish this review without talking about the last twenty minutes. Without giving anything away, the ending made the film for me and gives TS3 a good case for being the best of the series. Though I did not cry like many have claimed, I did find myself tearing up and certainly heard many sniffles and nose-blowing behind me in the theater. Like Wall•E and Up, this movie’s most memorable moment is without dialogue, yet again exemplifying the filmmaking genius the people at Pixar possess. TS3 joins the ranks of Pixar’s finest works and makes the Toy Story franchise one to be watched over and over again for generations to come. Before I was skeptical about a second Toy Story sequel, but now I cannot imagine the series without Toy Story 3.

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