Considering the Toy Story trilogy spans 15-years, viewing it back to back can almost be used as a visual guide to the advancements made in the computer-generated feature film industry these past decade and a half. The fact that this is animation pioneers Pixar (coupled to the Disney promotion machine) means that while the pixel popping visuals have improved exponentially in that span, the charm, heart, and timeless story telling elements introduced the first time around never wane throughout.
Toy Story 3 follows the tradition of picking up on the continuing story arc (and concluding it in fact) without really requiring its viewers to be familiar with the earlier entries to follow along.
When last we left the toys we first met in little Andy's nursery way back in 1995, they had accepted that despite ever decreasing playtime, they would stick with their kid so long as he needed them (the conclusion of Toy Story 2). As is so often the case with children the world over, TS3 finds a 17-year old college bound Andy, with very little need for the loyal toys that escorted him through his youth.
Crammed inside his toy box while Andy and his mother begin packing his possessions for college, the toys find themselves facing one of two terrible fates: the garbage bag or permanent storage in the dreaded attic. Believing that they’re about to be thrown away, the toys choose a third option: Donation to Sunnyside Daycare Center along with several of little sister Molly’s old toys.
The catch is that the toys are initially convinced they’ve found paradise with Sunnyside and its happy inhabitants. But they soon learn that they’ve been tricked into service as “toddler-fodder” for an unruly group of kids with rough play habits. Only after the realities of the situation are revealed to them is the depth of the conspiracy (led by a pink, stuffed bear named Lotso Huggin’) made clear. From there the plot shits gears into prison-break mode and, not unlike Toy Story 2, finds our characters uncomfortably separated from one another and far from home.
As has been tradition in this franchise, new toys are introduced to the fold with varying degrees of success perhaps the most successful of which being Ken, Barbie’s plastic love interest (voiced brilliantly by Michael Keaton).
While the first two films provided childhood nostalgia but focusing on the innocence of youth, Toy Story 3 achieves the similar results by demonstrating the inevitability of growing older and the fact that while one generation advances, there is always another discovering the wonder of life right behind.
Critics seem to generally praise this piece while simultaneously reminding that it isn’t quite as memorable as the first two films of the franchise, but I am in disagreement with the latter sentiment. In my opinion Pixar has used Toy Story 3 as an opportunity to advance their target demographic while proving that cleverness in story telling can be achieved on levels deeper than just gorgeous visuals.
Pixar has made a bit of a reputation out of epitomizing the Disney-esque “rated-G” sentimentality and while TS3 maintains the age-friendly charms, it’s quite apparent that this time they’ve gone the extra mile to insure humor that will appeal to the adults as well as the kids. Ken’s sexual orientation is in question throughout, the villain this time is actually quite vile and even concepts like gambling and slightly suggestive dialog make the cut in the usually extremely sterile mythos.
Some insist that the shift to a grittier, more action driven plot cost the series some of its heart, but I’m of the opinion that it advanced the series to new levels. Keep in mind that children who delighted in the first entry in theaters all those years ago would now be adults themselves. Evolution of the material is inevitable both figuratively and literally.
In all TS3 is a success on just about every conceivable level. The visuals, which are (as expected from Pixar) spectacular will dazzle children while the deeper levels of humor and action will make the experience far more enjoyable for adults. It’s not as cutesy as the other two but in a sort of "art imitating life" sort of way, that is the reality of things. I began this review by stating that this trilogy could be used to successfully demonstrate innovations in the computer generated animated feature film industry but perhaps more importantly, it could just as easily be used as a visual representation of the cycle of life itself. The part of the grander story taking place here follows the arc of their time spent with one individual but, much in the way the first film opened without explaining to the viewer where the toys had come from or what adventures they embarked upon before having come into Andy’s possession, we leave our plastic friends with the promise that their adventures are far from over.
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