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TOY STORY 3 (2010) (****)

Director Lee Unkrich and the entire Pixar team have found a fitting conclusion to the TOY STORY trilogy. It is worthy to stand by the masterpieces that came before it. The story deals with many of the same issues the previous films did, but extends them organically. The first film was Woody dealing with the possibility of being replaced as owner Andy's favorite. The second film was about what it means to be a toy. Now the third film deals with the existential question of what does it mean to be the toy of a child who has outgrown toys.

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Director Lee Unkrich and the entire Pixar team have found a fitting conclusion to the TOY STORY trilogy. It is worthy to stand by the masterpieces that came before it. The story deals with many of the same issues the previous films did, but extends them organically. The first film was Woody dealing with the possibility of being replaced as owner Andy's favorite. The second film was about what it means to be a toy. Now the third film deals with the existential question of what does it mean to be the toy of a child who has outgrown toys.

After a rousing fantasy sequence that brings the tangent filled imagination of a child to life, Woody (Tom Hanks, FORREST GUMP) leads the other toys in one last ditch attempt to get Andy (John Morris) to play with them. It doesn't go so well and the endless optimist Woody prepares the toys for their new life in the attic. Naysayers fear they'll end up in the trash or on eBay. Through a series of misunderstandings, Woody ends up in Andy's box to college and the others in a trashbag at the curb. After a narrow escape, Buzz (Tim Allen, TV's HOME IMPROVEMENT), Jessie (Joan Cusack, WORKING GIRL) and the others make their way to the donation box, hoping daycare will allow them to be played with again.

Woody ends up with the others and tries to persuade them that they need to go back and be available for Andy whenever he needs them. Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles, CASINO), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris, TV's SEINFELD), Rex (Wallace Shawn, THE PRINCESS BRIDE), Hamm (John Ratzenberger, TV's CHEERS), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, GET SMART) and Barbie (Jodi Benson, ENCHANTED) want to take their chances with the kids… I mean Andy did put them in a trashbag. At first, daycare looks like a paradise. The toys there are led by the jolly Lotso Hugs (Ned Beatty, NETWORK) and his right hand man Ken (Michael Keaton, BATMAN). But it turns out new toys are stuck with the destructive toddlers, insuring the survival of Lotso and his crew.

Because the story finds so many ways to surprise the viewer, I'll leave the rest of the plot for you to discover. What I will say is that the story plays on prison break flicks, a young girl Bonnie (Emily Hahn) takes a liking to Woody and we discover Buzz has a Spanish mode. Like all Pixar films, the world is completely understood and mined brilliantly for gags and plot turns. How a tortilla plays into an escape plot is simply hilarious. Ken is an older model and loves his donated '70s clothes. He sports more ascots than Freddy from SCOOBY-DOO. And be on the lookout for Pixar's wink to friend Hayao Miyazaki.

As for the internal story, Woody is not ready to let go of Andy. His dedication to his owner is undaunted. The others just want to play, like toys are supposed to do. But being bashed by toddlers all day isn't really fun. However, Lotso isn't going to just let new toys leave. He was once abandoned and replaced and he will do anything to make sure it never happens to him again. The plot hinges a great deal on action set pieces and the complications that arise. But at the end, one overseen moment brings a deeper meaning to the whole story. Life is about transitions.

Visually, this is of course the richest TOY STORY, because of the technological advances made since the original became the first CG feature. A visit to the dump is an amazing adventure. But as Pixar does, there is a particularly powerful emotional moment even within the grand spectacle.

Few films make me want to turn around the see them right after I just finished watching it for the first time. If I could I would have bought a ticket right after the screening. Pixar once again schools all the mindless action films on how to tell compelling and exciting stories. Films like A-TEAM are stuck in pre-school while Pixar has become the Harvard of storytelling. This is how you honor and end a franchise. With a tip of the hat, Woody and pals can ride off into the sunset, knowing that they left us with memories for a lifetime.

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Rick DeMott
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