Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton
Review: 5 stars (of five)
Toy Story 3 is fantastic—compelling filmmaking that surpasses even the impossibly high standards of Pixar. While the studio has experimented, magnificently, with deeper and less kid-cuddlin’ themes (Up) or satire and daring storytelling choices (Wall-E), this is a more conventional piece from the people who have absolutely perfected the art of telling emotionally resonant, beautifully realized adventures.
The setup is familiar: As the toys’ owner, young Andy, has grown, he has played with them less and less, and the toys suffer the heartbreak of feeling forgotten while also facing specific challenges that threaten to break up their plastic family. Especially for a children’s movie, these themes of unconditional love and loss of home and family are powerful. Each installment has long sequences of lost toys trying to get home against overwhelming odds, and Tom Hanks’ cowboy character, Woody, must always prove to the others that his faith in Andy—in love—will prevail.
With that usual scenario, director Lee Unkrich (co-directed Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2 and the writers (story by Unkrich and Pixar heavyweights John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, script by Little Miss Sunshine‘s Michael Arndt) and scriptwriter GUY simply create a new and more compelling maze for the kids to run through, with unexpected reversals every other minute. The first film pitted the characters against an “evil” boy who doesn’t love toys. The second movie’s villain was the mint-in-box collector whose sterile appreciation of “collectibles” misses the point of toys, which are made to be played and loved. In both case, “pure” childhood is perverted. Here, finally, childhood ends. The threat is the end of love as a grown-up Andy gets ready for college, triggering a domino series of adventures until the characters face an oblivion that’s utterly heartwrenching.
I’m not kidding about that. It’s Pixar, it’s Toy Story, it’s a goddamned children’s movie, so I knew that a happy ending was guaranteed. Perfectly happy? Maybe not, but these filmmakers were not about to utterly destroy the hearts of millions of kids and adults—there’d be riots in Emeryville. So as the toys faced the worst, most certain death possible, and for once gave up and accepted it together rather than fighting to the end, I knew the filmmakers were faking me out. It didn’t matter—I don’t think I’ve ever been more emotionally invested in a moment of film. Only the careful exercise of my legendary poise and dignity held me together. Follow that up with the best escape ever and an emotional resolution that was perfect in every frame, and these people cored me like an apple. I get emotional just typing vaguely about it a day later.
Ahem. The usual voice cast, much beloved after the first two installments, is augmented by a couple villainous rivals, ingeniously cast—Michael Keaton as a vain, blandly sinister Ken doll, and Ned Beatty as the main antagonist, a purple teddy bear. The 3D is nicely executed, though the film won’t lose a thing in 2D. Oh, and once again the pre-feature cartoon (Day & Night) is ambitious and entrancing.
I’ve been trying to think of a film series in which the third installment stands worthily beside the first. Not Star Wars, that’s for sure. Aliens was a fantastic second chapter, but Alien 3 crashed pretty hard, as did the third Spider-Man. What was the third James Bond film? Goldfinger? Okay—the Connery pics fly steadily, if never as high as the Toy Stories. This trio of films is a unique achievement in quality, vision, creativity and the mostly cynical Hollywood types call “heart.”