With the winning streak that Pixar is on, seeing one of their new films is akin to watching your favorite team in the 9th inning of a no-hitter. But when that film is a sequel to Toy Story, possibly the most important animated film since Fantasia, well now it’s like watching that same no-hitter…only this time it’s Game 7 of the World Series. After all, Toy Story 3 isn’t some direct-to-video dreck that we can all pretend never happened like Bambi II or Return to Neverland. Nor is it a sequel to film nobody really cared all that much about to begin with like The Rescuers Down Under. This is the real deal. This, to extend my baseball metaphor (I know, I know…it’s technically a simile), is the show.
It’s been 11 years since Toy Story 2 both in real life and in the movie. The toys ranks have dwindled over time. Weezy and Bo Beep are gone as well as others; they’ve been lost to damage, donation, yard sales or simply misplaced. Attrition has taken a psychological toll on our friends. As the film opens a melancholy has settled over Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang as they struggle to get a 17-year old, college-bound Andy (John Morris) to play with them one last time. As they watch him pack for school, each toy is painfully well aware that their future holds a limited array of options: the attic, donation or the trashcan. As that realization sets in, melancholy turns to panic. And when the toys are mistakenly thrown out they decide to stowaway in a donation box destined for a local daycare.
Sunnyside Daycare would, on its face, appear to be a panacea; a utopian world where owners have been exchanged for an unending supply of children who are continually replaced as they outgrow the need for toys. However, Sunnyside is a dark place. A world with no owners but many users brings with it problems all its own; namely no pride in ownership. This lack of ownership results in children that don’t care for (or about) the toys they play with. It’s an extended sequence, a major thread in the film actually, that seems to be a damning indictment of socialism. While that might sound like imbuing a children’s film with a little too much meaning it’s not as if Pixar doesn’t have a history of allowing metaphors and allegories to creep into their work. What was WALL-E if not a call for ecological awareness? And let’s not forget that The Incredibles was named the “2nd Best Conservative Movie of the Last 25 Years” by The National Review.
The Toy Story films have become so much a part of the fabric of our lives that it’s easy to forget that they can be pretty dark at times. The through line of the entire franchise has been that one day they would no longer be needed and this film brilliantly extrapolates that logic to its natural conclusion. Toy Story 3 is the darkest of the films which is something of an achievement given that the original was deemed so frightening that Disney couldn’t find a toy company willing to manufacture dolls and action figures until after the film’s wildly successful reception upon release. That being said, the original film’s intensity came from threat of violence in the visage of Sid, the manically sadistic, toy-torturing boy next-door. But this time out the threat boarders on the existential. What’s to become of a toy without a child?
These themes can be pretty heady stuff, so I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that the film is a lot of fun. The daycare becomes a prison of sorts and the toys must work together in order to escape. But there is always that Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads; a nagging question of just exactly what they’re escaping to. The film is part The Great Escape, part Animal Farm and part Lord of the Flies and is as good as, or better than, any of those films. The final 40-minutes will slam you through more emotions than marriage retreat. It’s funny, sad, touching and an edge-of-your seat thrill ride. And the action culminates with a deus ex machina so kick-ass (not to mention literal) that it’s hard to believe they hadn’t been plotting it since Day One (take that Lost).
As a movie critic I see close to 200 films a year so perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay a film is this: I can’t wait to see it again. I’m sorry to see it end but I’m glad (and amazed (and relieved)) that they pulled it off. We didn’t just get a no-hitter, we got a perfect game.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Toy Story 1 & 2 and 1 being Toys, Toy Story 3 gets a 10.
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