Hmm… would anybody still read this review if I start off by saying Toy Story 3 is overrated?
When I think about animation’s greatest time periods, I think of 1937-1942, 1989-1992, and 2008-2010. Kick-starting animation in general, you have beautifully-drawn classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, and Bambi from Walt Disney’s golden era. Revitalizing the Disney brand, you have infectious, show-stopping musical numbers a dime a dozen in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin from the Disney renaissance. And most recently, we had WALL-E, Up, Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, and Toy Story 3 all within 3 years from various animation studios. Is Toy Story 3 the best film of this unnamed era? I wouldn’t say so. Heck, is Toy Story 3 the best animated film of 2010? No. But is Toy Story 3 a near-perfect ending to one of cinema’s most cherished franchises? Undoubtedly, yes.
We meet up with all our favorite toys again in Toy Story 3, along with the colorful addition of an abandoned Barbie toy from Andy’s little sister who is also growing too old for toys. Andy is going to college, and after a pretty bloated misunderstanding, everyone but Woody believes Andy tried to throw his toys away. This causes all the toys to freak out and join Barbie to be donated to a daycare center. Once the gang gets there, Woody has had enough and decides to head back to Andy. Unfortunately, not even Buzz follows Woody’s lead, and hence, Woody storms off angrily on a sour good-bye.
Stuff happens, Woody comes back to Sunnyside daycare, Buzz is holding his friends hostage, and it becomes a darker jail break movie, and a well-made one at that. It’s funny, it’s creative, it’s fun, if unremarkable.
In this movie, there are almost two Pixar moments, but I’m going to go ahead and deem this moment as the climax. It’s when all of the toys have escaped the daycare center and are holding hands as they face their destiny.
I think why this scene works is because it ties into what this movie is about: facing our destiny. Over the course of two movies, in particular, Toy Story 2, Woody has accepted that Andy will grow up. Andy will abandon him. Woody learns it’s not so much about what our destiny is, but rather, how we cope with it, how we deal with it. Humans have constantly dealt with death over the course of history, the most inevitable and ultimate conclusion to our lives. You can either try and run away from it, or you can accept it, hold each others hands, and say good-bye.
The Pixar Moment
Do I even need to say what is the Pixar moment? You all watched it, loved it, and cried during it. It’s a little silly when you think about it, but I guess that’s the magic of Pixar. That they can convince you of a college boy who says goodbye to his toys by playing with them for the very last time.
I always found the spacing between the three movies a little odd. The first one in 1995, the second one shortly afterwards in 1999, and only in 2010 did they finally release the third. The first one was largely motivated by a short called Tin Toy, and it’s obvious how excited the creative team at Pixar was to start on their first feature-length film. The second film was inspired by John Lasseter’s fascination for toy collecting, and even started the project over from scratch when he came back to it (unsatisfied) after tours for A Bug’s Life. That creative motivation is what’s lacking in Toy Story 3. I just don’t feel that sense of excitement. Many plot threads are actually rehashed from previous movies, really compromising the emotional impact of Lotso’s story which is reminiscent of Jessie’s story in Toy Story 2. Pixar uncharacteristically falls back on typical cinematic tropes in this one, such as the obvious misunderstanding cliche. I think it could have been much more effective if Woody also thought he was being thrown away, but still put his trust in Andy.
Instead, we get a sense of obligatory commitment from Pixar, but when considering how much care Pixar shows for their first film’s trilogy, obligatory commitment is good enough. Just the range of jokes that expanded with the addition of Barbie and Ken is ingenious. Spanish Buzz is much more creative than the subplot involving Zerg in Toy Story 2, and the way Mr. Potato Head transforms into carbohydrates or other vegetables is absolutely hilarious. Toy Story 3 takes risks with its darker color palette, but it never loses its sense of humor throughout the film.
Toy Story 3 is one of those rare movies that almost demands a second viewing, because the ending of the film changes the way you view the beginning of the film. It begins with a montage of Andy growing up, and there is a real sense of nostalgia that may be lost on viewers who didn’t foresee the ending. Inherently, though, I think we all could sense this was Toy Story’s last chapter, possibly because we were also learning to let go of things. Many of us who grew up with Toy Story was also in Andy’s shoes by the time Toy Story 3 came out, and maybe that was intentional. Perhaps that was the reason Pixar chose this strange release date. Pixar knew just when they wanted to say good-bye, and while they haven’t since been able to quite reach the heights of WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3, I think this is an opportune time to reflect upon how good we had it in 2008-2010. Toy Story 3 is our most recent memory of Pixar’s ability to say hello to great new stories, franchises, and trilogies.
Final Grade: A- (90%)–one of the most bittersweet good-bye put on the big screen.