While the actual first film that I can remember seeing in theaters was A Muppets Christmas Carol, one of the other earliest pictures that I can remember seeing at the movies was Pixar’s debut feature, Toy Story. The first full-length film to be made using computer-generated graphics, Toy Story has stood the test of the time and has always held an incredibly special place in my heart. When I heard a couple of years ago that they were finally making the long talked about Toy Story 3, I was justifiably concerned, since Disney’s record of releasing sequels to its classic films is less than stellar. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Toy Story 3 ranks alongside Up and the original Toy Story as being one of the greatest animated films that Pixar has produced, and I’m absolutely positive that if you were a child that grew up with the original films but is a grown up now, then the emotional strength of this film can hardly be under-stated.
Toy Story 3 picks up pretty much in universe with the number of years that had passed since the release of Toy Story 2, which was about 11 years or so years before. Andy, the owner of cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), is all grown up and about to head off to college. The few remaining toys that haven’t been sent off in yard sales or thrown away haven’t been played with in years, and they concoct elaborate schemes just to have the opportunity to see or hear Andy. Due to some confusion, the toys are accidentally sent to a daycare center instead of being placed in the attic. The daycare is run by an autocratic stuffed bear who uses new arrivals as cannon fodder for toddlers who don’t know how to properly take care of toys. What follows through the film is a very powerful meditation on abandonment, growing up, and continuing the cycle of love, play, and imagination. And it is guaranteed to bring grown men into inconsolable tears.
I’m probably not saying anything too controversial when I say that with The Incredibles, Up, and Toy Story 3, Pixar took the opportunity to place really mature and deep themes in what are other wise children’s movies. You place the site gags, the animated look, and some of the more childish aspects of plot and pacing to keep the children interested and appeased, but then you throw in some deep and moving moments and messages for the parents, and right now, no one does that better than Pixar. The beginning sequence of Up is one of the most powerful 10 minutes or so of any movie I’ve ever seen, animated or live action. The last scene of Toy Story 3 had me just convulsing with tears. It was embarrassing. I’m glad there wasn’t any women around to see me weeping like I was at a funeral for a loved one. And they weren’t even sad tears. It was tears of recognition of such a fantastic celebration of childhood and the transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s heavy shit. I’ve talked to so many of my friends who agree whole-heartedly when we feel like this movie wasn’t even made for the kid audience but it was made as a celebration of growing up for all the millions of kids who grew up with these films and are now finally grown-ups ourselves.
Besides the emotional weight of the film, it’s fantastic for a myriad of other reasons, particularly the endless jokes and tight plotting that keep you laughing as well as crying. Any scene with Ken and Barbie is hilarious. The sight gags where Mr. Potato Head looks like something out of a Dali painting are great fun for the adults. The film’s last act is structured like The Great Escape. It has some genuinely dark and terrifying moments that I’m sure scared the piss out of the kids in the audience. It has a pretty fantastic use of a Deus Ex Machina at the end of the film. The film’s opening sequence is a brilliant bit of ridiculous anachronism in how it combines the old west with science fiction with just the beautiful imagination of a hyper-active child who hasn’t had life sucked out of him yet by growing up.
This is one of only three animated films to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and that should hopefully speak volumes towards the quality of the picture (the other two being Beauty and the Beast and Up). While I probably still believe that Up and The Incredibles are better movies, it’s a damn close race and Toy Story 3 is still one of the best animated pictures ever made. If you were ever a child and especially if you were a child when the original Toy Story films were released, then you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. If you finish it and haven’t spent the majority of the film in tears, then you are probably a heartless automaton. To infinity and beyond!
Final Score: A