These days, kids and families living in Fresno and all over the world do not have any guarantees of anything in movies anymore, except that Pixar will always put out a good movie. Seriously, this crew of animators have been making computer animated feature films for Disney for fifteen years now, starting with the original Toy Story, the first feature ever made completely in computer animation, and in this fifteen years they have never made a bad film, only excellent ones. Frankly, this examiner is baffled at how they have maintained this level of quality for so long, except for the fact that they are Pixar. In the years since the first Toy Story, Pixar has gone on to make such critically acclaimed as A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up. Now Pixar takes on perhaps its greatest challenge yet by finally giving their devoted fans a film that they have been anxiously awaiting for eleven years.
Toy Story 3 is the third, clearly intended to be the final, installment in Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, the franchise that first made them a household name and opened the world to possibilities of computer animation. The series follows the adventures of the toys belonging to a boy named Andy, whom come to life whenever their owner isn’t around. There are many colorful characters among Andy’s toys, but the two most famous ones are their brave and loyal leader, Woody the cowboy doll (voiced by Tom Hanks), and the even more courageous action figure, space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). Woody and Buzz had a very antagonistic relationship during the first Toy Story, with them both competing for the title of Andy’s favorite toy. Or at least Woody was, while Buzz believed for most of the film that her really was the superhero character he is modeled after. The two hate each other for pretty much the entire film, but by the ending they have become best friends, Woody even putting his jealously of Buzz aside to help save his life. In Toy Story 2, Woody is stolen by greedy toy collector because he is actually based on the lead character of his own TV show from the fifties. While their, Woody makes two new friends, Jessie the yodeling cowgirl (voiced by Joan Cusack) and his trusty horse Bullseye. This time Buzz and some of the other toys were able to save Woody, but not before he was overcome with a brief fear that after Andy grew up, he and the other toys would all be thrown away.
Toy Story 3 deals with that very fear becoming a reality as Andy gets ready to go to college, leaving the toys to question their future. Woody tries to assure the other that Andy will probably just box them up and put them away in the attic, while many of the other toys are convinced Andy will just throw them in the trash. Ultimately, Andy decided to take only Woody with him to college and put the other toys in the attic, but a mix-up happens and instead Andy’s mom puts them outside to be thrown out. The toys get free before its too late and hitch a ride to Sunnyside Day Care, a place where old toys can be donated for kids to play with forever. After getting a tour from the strawberry-scented Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear, aka “Lotso” (voiced by Ned Beatty) and a rather effeminate Ken doll (voiced by Michael Keaton), all the toys think that Sunnyside will be a wonderful place to live from now on, except for Woody who still has faith in Andy. Woody is able to escape from Sunnyside, but it soon becomes clear to Buzz and the other toys that things in this place are not at all what they were expecting…in fact, they are far worse then they could have ever imagined.
With this film, Pixar has managed to do what has proved to be almost impossible with most successful film franchises: make all three films in the series of excellent quality. Usually the first film of a trilogy is good, the second film is up-in-the-air (meaning it will either work or not, sometimes even surpassing the original), but somehow the third film in the trilogy is almost always a disappointment. But with Toy Story 3, director Lee Unkrich has somehow broken this trend and not only made the last installment of the trilogy on par with the other two films, but brought the trilogy to a completely satisfying and emotional climax. This examiner is not kidding when he says that he nearly cried at the ending.
The film has often been compared to a classic prison escape movie like The Great Escape, and this examiner definitely felt that as he watched it. The advertisements did a great job of concentrating on the toddlers that were torturing all the toys so as to disguise what the real danger was that Andy’s toys would be up against this time. Buzz actually plays a key role in all of this, not by choice (sort of), but it was a nice way to call back to the delusional Buzz Lightyear that we all fondly remember from the original movie.
the action here is pretty good, but the story doesn’t need very much of that. The climax at the city dump is particularly thrilling. There are also several memorable jokes in the film, all of which are clever pay offs of what a toy can do or has to go through during it’s life. The funniest part is following Mr. Potato Head as the toys make their daring escape plan; wow, this examiner cannot believe that they came up with all that stuff! Although, there is also a fashion show involving Ken and Barbie that, while fitting the characters and the toys they are based on, is not the kind of humor you expect in a Pixar film, especially with the song “La Freak” playing in the background.
Visually, this film looks perfect; up-to-par with other CG films today but only never too far removed from Toy Story 2, or the original Toy Story before it. The ability for Pixar to make each film look a wee bit better than its predecessor yet never loose the visual feel established the first time around is a testament to how much these creators care about this series, as they care deeply about everything they do.
There is not much more this examiner can say about the film without spoiling it, which he refuses to do because this film is so worth seeing. But there is one thing he wants to say to those who go the see the film; it is not necessary to see it in 3-D. Don’t get the wrong idea, the 3-D does not look terrible at all like in did in Clash of the Titans, its just that it is hardly there and it doesn’t really do anything. It doesn’t become part of the subtle atmosphere like it did in Avatar, nor does it do any of the cliché in-your-face moments like in Alice in Wonderland. It just adds a slightly better dimension to the film and doesn’t have many stand-out moments that this examiner noticed other than briefly during a scene where Woody took off on a make-shift hangglider. But this is not a mark off of the film itself at all.
The performances here are fantastic. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen prove that in the eleven years since the second film neither of them have lost any of the chops needed to perfect Woody and Buzz Lightyear, respectively. This time, Hanks plays Woody with a mix of hidden fear and concern, while bringing the character’s relationship with Andy to a bittersweet ending. Allen gets to play both a professional and competent Buzz Lightyear as well as return to the delusional one that fans remember and love; he even gets to perform the character is Spanish (okay, that probably wasn’t him, but it was still funny). Joan Cusack also reprises her role as Jessie, and this time gets an almost unexpected romantic subplot. Ned Beatty plays Lotso, and while he does a great job playing the happy old toy viewers expect upon first seeing him, he conveys far deeper and more edgy emotions than that! Other returning voice actors include: Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, Wallace Shawn as Rex, John Ratzenberger as Hamm, and Estelle Harris as Mrs. Potato Head. Other characters have been recast after some of the original actors have passed away, such as Blake Clark taking over for the late Jim Varney as Slinky Dog. John Morris plays the now seventeen-year old Andy with only the barest hint of teen angst and mostly with the innocence of young adulthood and perhaps a touch of anxiety about beginning this major new phase of his life; as this examiner already said, Andy’s final goodbye to the toys at the end of the film almost brought him to tears. There are also several new characters introduced in the film, more than this examiner has time cover. But besides Ned Beatty, perhaps the most well-known and most talked about new cast member is Michael Keaton as Ken. Keaton plays this character with his trademark comedic wit and an very material perspective on life and most certainly fashion, but despite going for some clear cliché areas, the character never ventures in homosexual translation, mainly due to his immediate, and predictable, romance with Barbie, played by Jodi Benson.
Overall, Toy Story 3 is yet another fantastic film to come from Pixar and provides an excellent ending to the Toy Story franchise that is guaranteed to satisfy fans and filmgoers everywhere. As a very brave toy once said, “TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!”