Toy Story 3

5 out of 5

Directed by: Lee Unkrich

Yes, I accept that we needed a couple of movies to set up characters and dynamics, but there’s something different about Toy Story 3 beyond what it owes to its predecessors.  The original Toy Story was just a sparkle of CGI atop a very generic kid’s movie template; Toy Story 2 had more room to work, but also felt like it was showing off at points, pandering to parents and pushing the ‘toys come alive’ formula in ways that didn’t feel organic to the story.

So, yes, it helps that we know cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of their toy gang from previous flicks, and the introductory home movies of lead kid Andy, showing him playing with and growing up with his toys until we land in present day, with his packing for college, certainly have more context thanks to those same flicks, but I think all of this would work just fine on its own; it’s not a complicated setup, and strikes at the same instantly recognizable scenario in the same way the very premise of the series likely instantly twinged thoughts of wanting your toys to come to life when you were a kid.  All of this is to say: Toy Story 3 is different, and I don’t think it’s just because it’s a sequel.  It’s because it’s the first Toy Story to actually treat itself like a movie.

There are no overtly parent-pleasing references.  There’re no immersion breaking sequences that are just designed to show off tech or make the kids laugh.  The villains are no longer cartoonish but seem borne from more complex emotions, and Tom and Tim are disappeared behind Woody and Buzz, as is the entire cast.  Heartstrings are pulled but not manipulated; as calamities – this time in the form of some pretty terrifying, toy-rending dangers – kept building upon themselves during the latter half of the film, I was edge of my seat, truly wondering what could possibly happen next.  That’s great filmmaking, animated or otherwise.  To top it all off: I laughed out loud several times.  The most the previous movies had managed were some grins.

I mentioned in my review of Incredibles 2 that I knew the movie was effective because I wanted to stay and try to appreciate the credits, and I experienced something similar here.  Keeping with the ‘things are different’ theme for Toy Story 3, the credits sequence actually matters to the film, and deepened my appreciation for the heightened level of writing of the movie.  There are, unfortunately, a couple of gendered-type jokes at a Ken’s dolls expense, which shows that 2010 was still a long time ago in terms of social awareness, but I’m sure the flicks of 2020 (the time I’m reviewing this) will prove to be lacking a decade from now as well.

All of the Toy Storys essentially deal with the toys having to learn to accept the passing of time, whether that means changes to their intra-toy family, or to the family that had ‘raised’ them.  Toy Story 3 – which sees the gang having to figure out what to do with themselves once donated to a daycare, with owner Andy moving on to college – uses that scenario to question things like legacy, and friendship, and to examine the impacts we make upon one another, all without resorting to cheese or easy morals.