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Pixar Knows When to Quit (I Hope)

John Lasseter’s always said Pixar wouldn’t make another Toy Story unless they could come up with a narrative that would do the characters justice. Guess what – they have.

Woody, Buzz and the gang. © Disney/Pixar.

To quote a line from Toy Story 2’s ad campaign, the toys are back in town; to paraphrase another from What’s New Pussycat, together again for the last time. And it looks like the real deal too:Pixar is bidding farewell to Woody and his pals. Frankly, I wish all my goodbyes were this sweet.

You probably already know the story: Andy (who in the 15 years since the first Toy Story has aged a mere 12 years, from 6 to 18) is heading off to college – and what will be the fate of his cherished childhood pals? When a complex effort to engage Andy in one last play session before his departure fails, they seem headed for an attic exile…until a cascading series of accidents once again leaves them far from home and Woody separated from his comrades.

Toy Story 3 has one of the best constructed screenplays I've seen in a long time. The film keeps a lot of balls in the air with parallel plot lines that counterpoint rather than confuse, along with smooth tonal shifts from gags to suspense to deep emotion.

Consider this a warning: there be spoilers here, so beware…

As in the earlier Toy Storyies, Woody displays a stubborn streak that sends him heading off on his own, thus those parallel plot lines… like Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2, a deceptively friendly character with a secret agenda is on hand – but one who sincerely believes he’s doing what’s right and has a motive for doing so… the film’s 3D is nicely and subtly handled, never calling attention to itself – except for a single deliberate moment, and a Hitchcock homage at that… Barbie’s bf Ken has a wardrobe fixation comes in for some serious ribbing, to a degree I’m surprised Mattel let them get away with. (Let’s just say he seems a little light in the loafers, wink-wink nudge-nudge; cross-dressing gags are now evidently suitable children’s entertainment)… is Pixar invading DreamWorks territory? To the best of my memory this is the first Pixar film using pop songs for in-movie gags, something I wasn’t expecting to see, I mean hear.

© Disney/Pixar.

Now consider this a real warning to parents with young’uns: The film’s extended climax features multiple moments of intense jeopardy (they’re in trouble – no, they’re gonna be okay – no, they’re in bigger trouble…) and a scene that for me evoked – and I am not kidding, I swear to God: what people trapped in the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 must've been experiencing, knowing there was simply no escape from their imminent death. (Another spoiler: they survive, thanks to a literal deus ex machina that’s also a sly wink back to the first movie.) It’s an 11-plus on the scary meter, way past Bambi’s mom (spoiler: she’s killed by hunters) because it’s happening right in front of you and it’s happening to the main characters; theater owners may want to consider plastic-lining the seats…

Toy Story 3’s wrap-up is beautiful and guaranteed to wring a bit more moisture out of its audience – but this time from their tear ducts. In a deservedly leisurely sequence Andy enjoys a final playtime with his toys (what they were trying to engineer at the movie’s start) before leaving for college and adulthood. If it had been rushed through it wouldn't have had the same poignancy. It’s time to say goodbye; farewell Woody, Buzz and friends…

–  unless of course Pixar decides to explore their post-Andy lives, or come up  with a ‘lost chapter’ sequel taking place between TS and TS2, or 2 and 3… Nah, they wouldn’t do that – or would they...?

(The correct answer is no, they won’t.)

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.