Explain the premise of the “Toy Story” series to a friend who’s never seen it (if you can find one) and you’re bound to completely miss out on what makes it special in the first place:
“You see, all these toys come to life when their owner isn’t around and have all these crazy adventures.”
The reason the movies work so well with ‘kids’ of all ages is because the toys echo the basic emotional needs we have as human beings: to be loved and appreciated. Add in some nostalgia for childhood (especially by recreating fondly remembered toys and giving them personality) and you’ve got the adults firmly in the palm of your hands.
It’s been 11 years since we visited animated toys Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and since then, the boy who owns them—Andy—has grown up and headed off to college.
Like “Up,” a montage early in the movie may just move you to tears. The other thing it does effectively, however, is set a melancholy tone that stays with “Toy Story 3” throughout. Friendships are tested and loyalties are betrayed, yes, in this “movie about talking toys.”
Andy has outgrown his toys and they all realize their future in the house looks dim. Will his mother casually throw them in the garbage or will they be remanded to the attic indefinitely? Screenwriter Michael Arndt keeps the audience guessing—something that’s not that easy to do—and pulls the rug out from under the toys a number of times, keeping that fear of abandonment very much in the forefront.
That’s not to say that there aren’t the requisite amount of clever jokes and smart dialogue we’ve come to expect from the reigning kings and queens of modern animation—there are.
There’s a Ken doll (Michael Keaton) who is hilariously unaware of how vain he is, a menacing sleepy-eyed and rundown baby doll, and a big plush bear (Ned Beatty) with a chip on its shoulder the size of a playground.
But what surprised me about “Toy Story 3” was how in thrall I—and the rest of the audience—was during the film.
Even when it starts to turn into a prison film, the idea seems more organic than desperate. That development doesn’t happen as some sort of inside joke for the older crowd; it actually serves one of the film’s main themes about sticking together and working together.
Visually, director Lee Unkrich and his talented team of animators have left the stylized look of the main characters alone. Even though CGI has advanced significantly in 11 years, there must be consistency in design, but the backgrounds and some of the newer characters have a very photorealistic quality to them that makes the story seem all the more real.
The screening I saw was in 3D and it was wasn’t showy at all. Like any good film, you are so immersed in the story that 3D just becomes a natural part of the process.
I hope, for one, that this is the last “Toy Story” movie because it ends on an absolutely perfect note. This isn’t some last-ditch cash grab like the “Shrek” or “Ice Age” movies—this is a fitting and moving final chapter that takes the premise of the first movie to its logical conclusion.
Loneliness, longing, friendship, growing up: They are all explored through the rich pallette that the series has created, but with this new movie, it goes a step further. The master storytellers at Pixar aren’t afraid to mix plenty of palpable danger into their heartwarming stories and, in the end, it’s to the benefit of audiences everywhere—no matter how old they are.