Imagine for a moment that you’re a toy, one of the toys that come to life when the coast is clear of any watchful eyes, and you’re separated from the owner who spent countless days, weeks, months, and years playing with you. One day you’re lost and the adventure to make it home is terrifying enough and with every step forward, 2 steps are taken backward. Being separated from the owner is what Toy Story as a franchise has been about. The toys get lost, are left behind or stolen and the toys themselves band together against the greatest of odds to make it back safe and sound. Maybe a limb gets sliced and some stuffing pops out.
No harm done, what the humans don’t know won’t hurt them.
Toy Story 3 takes that separation anxiety from the toys perspective and raises the stakes tenfold. Though the same underlying premise of toys being mistakenly separated from their owner follows into the 3rd of a generational trilogy, the journey home is fresh and just as stressful as ever. By act three, you start to wonder if this much effort is worth the painstaking efforts. The unyielding and unbeknownst love a toy has for their owner is remarkable – the toy, like a domesticated animal is the best life they will ever experience. For a fraction of our lives, the toy Is there, day in and day out, ready for the next adventure to be imagined but for the toy, we are their entire world.
Now imagine being that same toy, on the brink of missing out on making it home in time, surrounded by fellow toys who are the only family you have facing death by incineration at a garbage facility. Getting to that point is one thing but in what the toys think is their final moments Toy Story 3 solidifies itself as a true masterpiece of storytelling. In that moment, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Bullseye, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles & Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clarke), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) all pause, breathe and hold each other’s hands.
These toys come to the realization that they will die, and they accept their fate, being present together in their final minutes alive. All the effort put into the plan of making it back home to be stored away in the attic and this is how it ends – looking fear directly in the eye and accepting the outcome. Director Lee Unkrich (who previously edited the first two installments) brings a deep emotional traumatic experience to life off of a screenplay by Michael Arndt.
The thought of watching plastic animated toys be burned alive will make the toughest person cry.
11 years after Toy Story 2, the connection to these characters hasn’t disappeared especially from those who grew up with the first two films and were at the same age Andy (John Morris) was when he was first gifted Buzz Lightyear on his birthday. Now 17 and on the brink of leaving home for college, Andy is begrudgingly tasked with cleaning out his room that younger sister Molly (Bea Miller) has been eyeing for a while. Andy’s mom (Laurie Metcalf) gives out an ultimatum: Either it goes to college, to the attic or to the trash. As any teenager would react to this harsh demand, nothing should be moved, touched or cleaned up and if something were out of place, the world would cease to exist.
A 4th option is presented – old toys can be donated to Sunnyside day care. To those toys, the thought of getting played with in perpetuity sounds lucrative. No attachments means no tears and feelings of abandonment. What toy could say no to the welcome Lotso the bear (Ned Beatty) and his associates give to incoming toys.
Barbie (Jodi Benson) even found her Ken (Michael Keaton).
The good news is that in the third film in this franchise, we can count on the familiarity of the toys personalities to remind us why these characters are as endearing so many years later. Woody is still an optimist – seeing the good in the situation, Buzz is still a skeptic – having the reservations about the situation but willing to accept the hand that’s played, and the rest of the toys are pessimists – seeing the worst in the 3 options Andy’s mom presents her son. With the familiarity and connection we have to these characters, Michael Arndt’s script finds ways to breathe new life into the toys giving them new angles, depth and dimensions to explore in a comical sense.
For one, the rough and tumble Buzz Lightyear has his Spanish mode triggered during the breakout of Sunnyside. A sequence and reoccurring joke that will have instant mass appeal to the younger and older audiences simultaneously. Part daytime novella, part adventure, Pixar seems to be doing it with their eyes closed. The same way that Pixar can stir up forgotten memories and good times despite a change that only life can provide. Opening the film is a montage of home movies with Randy Newman serenading “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” providing the backdrop for a flood of emotions that are ready to pour out.
Toy Story 3 and the first two films have always tackled the prospect that someday Andy will get old and move on from his youth. And subsequently, the toys that shaped Andy would disappear and be handed down to the next generation. It’s a part of life, growing up and this trilogy has become a safe space, one that makes it acceptable to stay a kid at heart and be imaginative and unique. But it also deals with acceptance and grief. These plastic playthings have experienced a lifetime of anguish. Their owner will inevitably get older, and the toys will have to accept their priority in their kid’s life will shrink until a change is made. Toy Story has become a universal language of growing up and the many stages one can feel in the grieving process.
Not only is the script the best of the trilogy but the animators at Pixar take the computer animation technology that transformed the medium and elevates their game. Toy Story 3 is shiny, polished and overall visually delightful to watch. Character design have a realism to them to the point that every stitch pops off the screen and every strand of fur looks as soft to touch. With its release, there is no doubt that Toy Story 3 completes one of the greatest trilogies of all time. An emotional journey from the start to the final “so long, partner” Toy Story 3 is an emotional rollercoaster that will take you on unexpected ride of ups and downs, tears and laughs. As much as it is a conclusion, it’s also a beginning. The animation medium has proved it’s worth with telling a genuine story of love ad friendship.
Screenplay By: Michael Arndt
Story By: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich
Directed By: Lee Unkrich
Music By: Randy Newman
Cinematography: Jeremy Lasky & Kim White
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Timothy Dalton, Kristen Schaal
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: June 18, 2010
Running Time: 1 Hour 43 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%