There’s a time in one’s life when one can become completely washed over by nostalgia. Even if it’s something you own on home video and have seen countless times over the years. Sometimes you know a film, or films, by heart yet can still find something new with each viewing is a marvel unto itself. Save for instance, a threequel is released to such a beloved classic one-two punch as the Toy Story films.
It’s been eleven years since the last part of the series was released and you really hope that what they’ve come up with is a spectacular mix of old and new and that’s exactly what we get with Toy Story 3. While I may have touted Iron Man 2 as the summer blockbuster to beat, you really can’t place these two films in the same category. But I will say, Toy Story 3 is now the best film of the season, if not the year thus far.
When Toy Story 2 was first announced it seemed like quite a gamble and at first Pixar didn’t think it was the worthy successor it turned out to be. It was originally aimed for a direct-to-video release but after an early screening for some Disney execs they felt the film had honestly improved upon the already instant-classic original. Pixar may produce a powerhouse slew of material, but even they have their own insecurities which I’m sure is why every film is a home run. This studio cares about nothing more than quality – and not just in the animation department.
Head honcho John Lasseter has always put story first. Through eleven films now they have proven themselves the top leader in family entertainment. Even their single throwaway spin-off, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, is an above average entry to the Disney canon of their direct-to-video dumping grounds. And at first Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich (co-director of Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, aside from editor on both of the first two Toy Story films and A Bug’s Life) even had his own reservations this time about how they could possibly top the first two but then came to his own realization that if they couldn’t then who else could? They did it first, they can do it again, and boy do they ever.
The first two Toy Story films may have four credited screenwriters each but as with all Pixar films never feel cobbled together or written by committee. With as much going on in Toy Story 3 it may come as a surprise that only a single writer, Michael Arndt, is credited. Another surprise is that this is only Arndt’s second writing credit after his Oscar-winning screenplay for the dark, R-rated indie hit Little Miss Sunshine. That Oscar was no fluke I’m happy to say. There’s so much hilarity, heart, and adventure packed into this film that he should at least receive yet another nomination come next awards season. It will be no surprise to anyone when Toy Story 3 walks away with Best Animated Feature. Pixar usually does and for good reason.
I won’t go into huge detail involving the plot. The toys are back but have lost a few friends along the way. Andy (still voiced by the same child actor John Morris) has grown apart from his childhood best buds, Woody (voice by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), and is preparing to move away to college. Andy’s Mom (voiced by Laurie Metcalf) insists that Andy either pack away what he wishes to take to college, pack away items for the attic, or throw the rest away. Andy picks Woody to tag along to college and packs his remaining toys into a garbage bag to stash in the attic.
Through circumstance, the toys accidentally wind up getting thrown away but not before Woody stages another rescue mission and they all wind up in a box marked “Sunnyside” where Andy’s Mom is donating Molly’s (Beatrice Miller) Barbie (the Little Mermaid herself, Jodi Benson) and Magic 8 ball. While at first the rest of the gang thinks they’re better off at daycare, Woody knows that Andy wasn’t really throwing them away and wants them all to go back home.
Everyone else feels they should stay after they’re taken in by Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty), or Lotso for short and given a guided tour along with Barbie’s possible soul mate Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton). Soon enough, the toys learn the harsh difference between the Butterfly Room versus the Caterpillar Room.
*Note: To anyone who’s ever thought children were frightening before, just wait till you see what it’s like to be a toy at a daycare center. Sure enough Woody, with some assistance from the toys at new youngster Bonnie’s (voiced by Emily Hahn) house, and Buzz (with the help of Lotso switching him back to “Demo” mode) learn the truth behind the Sunnyside hierarchy led by Lotso, and they all stage a prison break of sorts to return to Andy before he finishes packing up and heads off without them.
There are so many new toys in this obviously final close to a trilogy of excellence that it’s hard to even think of how many characters there could possibly be. While sources site 302 total, some of the few new that stick out are obviously Lotso and Ken but the others who play a large part are Trixie (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Mr. Pricklepants (voiced by Timothy Dalton), Peas-in-a-Pod (voiced by Charlie Bright, Amber Kroner and Brianna Maiwand), Buttercup (voiced by Jeff Garlin), Dolly (voiced by Bonnie Hunt), Big Baby, Chuckles (voiced by Bud Luckey), Hayao Miyazaki’s own Totoro itself and Chatter Telephone (voiced by Teddy Newton). With so many new characters you’d worry that this installment would feel a little overblown and suffer because of this but everyone plays their part and become pretty integral to the plot. And if you thought after two films you thought you knew Buzz, no has visto nada aún.
There are key ingredients necessary for a complete Pixar experience and thankfully we get them all. Of course you have to have the attached short, in this case the mesmerizing "Day & Night." The short features two classically-animated characters, Night and Day, filled with computer-animated versions of both literally day and night, who meet for the first time and while at first make themselves out to be enemies, eventually learn that they both possess something which makes each other complete. The other ingredient, aside from the film itself, is the inevitable selection of “outtakes.” While we may not get them here, be sure to stick through the credits for some additional scenes that nicely round out the film’s denouement.
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Pictures