REVIEW: ‘Toy Story 3’

Grade: A-

Despite the technical innovations, Pixar’s Toy Story franchise has always been based on nostalgia. The characterization of recognizable toys that span several decades has always been able to take the viewer back to the playfulness of youth and each film has established a sense of longing for those carefree days.

For me the Toy Story films themselves are nostalgic. I was 9 when the first film was released in theatres and I remember how awestruck I was seeing the technically innovative film in theatres. For a child the movies created the comforting feeling that your toys genuinely care about you. For adults the movies reignited a youthful imagination.

With its third installment to the franchise, Pixar is less interested in innovation and more interested in its characters. Toy Story 3 is the ultimate nostalgia trip which everybody should take. Pixar regular Lee Unkrich gets his first solo directing job and does an effective job of creating an intelligent, character-driven comedy that rarely misses a beat.

One of the strengths of the brilliant minds at Pixar is their ability to craft a story based around its characters. No individual is unimportant and every one deserves to have their story told. Almost all of the characters that were so loved from the first two films are back and by this time their stories have been well-established. Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm, and Slinky Dog are all back in lovable and hilarious form. Thematically the film is about the familial bond and what happens to those relationships when youth is lost.

The story picks up temporally almost even with the previous films’ release dates and the filmmakers even brought back John Morris, the original voice of Andy. Andy is about to begin his first year of college and his toys have been in a box in his room, untouched for years. The toys have accepted the fate that they are destined to spend years in an attic or end up in the dumpster and many have developed either escape or “retirement” plans. Through a mistake by Andy’s mother the toys end up getting donated to a daycare center called “Sunny Side.”

At first the toys are ecstatic with their new home, except for Woody who never gives up on Andy and escapes early to find him at college. However, the toys soon find out that “Sunny Side” is actually a toy prison and the elderly leader, Lotso Huggin’ Bear, rules the place with an iron fist. The toys are forced to hatch an elaborate escape plan and the film proceeds to parody several classic prison movies including The Great Escape and Cool Hand Luke. The toys are forced to come together and decide whether “Sunny Side” is worth enduring or should they attempt to escape, even though they have no home to go to.

Like many Pixar films, Toy Story 3 was made with the adult audience in mind. It’s funny and has a simple enough plot for children, but some parts are too complex and fast paced for the younger ones. For instance, there is a scene where Buzz Lightyear gets switched to Spanish mode and he talks rapidly with subtitles that use large words in succession. It was a funny bit, but there is no way an under-12 year old would be able to keep up with that kind of humor.

Along with all of the memorable characters comes the superstar voice cast. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Wallace Shawn, and John Ratzenberger all return to voice the well-known toys. New additions to the voice cast include Ned Beatty as Lotso Huggin’ Bear, Michael Keaton as Ken, Whoopi Goldberg as Stretch, and Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants. The best voice-acting performances come from Beatty, who creates a new type of evil in the form of Lotso Huggin’ Bear, and Hanks who fills Woody with such willful determination that its infectious.

Pixar is unable to avoid the obnoxious 3D trend and the film is available in both IMAX and Disney Digital 3D. My recommendation would be to avoid both if possible for the same reasons I said last year’s Up didn’t need to be seen in 3D. So much happens in the foreground and background of Pixar films and with 3D, the background is blurry and out of focus. Also, the 3D glasses darken the screen slightly and take away from the film’s vibrant color palette.

Randy Newman returns to do the film’s score and he ties in elements from the last two films, including the now iconic song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Pixar is known for their brilliant sound design and Toy Story 3 doesn’t disappoint, especially with the scenes in the daycare which feature wonderfully chaotic sound mixing.

As the film approaches its resolution, director Lee Unkrich, screenwriter Michael Arndt, and the Pixar creative team show their skill by leaving nary a dry eye in the house. Toy Story 3 ends with a sense of finality, like it is the last of the Toy Story movies. However, it welcomes you to rediscover the films for years to come – anytime you’re looking for a little nostalgia.

Bottom Line: Toy Story 3 is the best mainstream film so far in 2010. It might be best to leave the youngest ones at home, but definitely hire a sitter and get out to see this movie.

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  • I have to rewatch the first two “Toy Story” films before seeing this one, so I may have to wait until it comes out on DVD. Glad you enjoyed!

    I’m curious, though. You don’t list any major complaints with this movie, so how come it doesn’t get an A?

  • Because I don’t think it does as good of a job as “Up” or “Ratatouille” at appealing to adults and kids alike. It’s definitely more geared for adults and some of the kids at the screening seemed a bit restless.

  • Jose

    You actually think that “Ratatouille” ranks with “Up”?

  • Jolie Moira Jessalyn Dawson

    I haven’t seen Up in it’s entirety yet, so I can’t judge, but out of the part that I saw-and I only missed 15 or so minutes-I thought Ratatouille was ten times better. But, then again, Ratatouille is one of my my favorite Pixar films of all time, so I’m biased.

  • Mike

    Thanks this was a great review. I too think that Ratatouille was better than Up. The first ten minutes and the last two were absolutely birlliant, but the rest wasn’t all that great. Ratatouille is my fourth favourite Pixar movie, behind Finding Nemo, The Incrediblea, and Toy Story 2.

  • Brandon Cooley

    I just saw it at a drive-in theater and liked it.

  • Bastinian

    As a 19-year-old who just finished his first year of college, this movie came at the perfect time to hit me where it hurts the most. Every emotion that Andy displayed, and the overwhelming sense that the freedom and fun of youth is gone for good left me weak at the knees, as I had just overcome those things myself. I understand that for the young children this movie must have felt like just another fun summer flick, but for me, it was something much more. I was at the stage where a small part of me was still sticking to my youth. It was a part of me that I simply couldn’t let go. Until now. After watching this movie, I was able to let go. I may not be a full adult now, but I am no longer lingering in my past fun. As a result, Toy Story 3 became the last part of my childhood, and it has jumped in my charts to the top 5 best movies I’ve ever seen. This movie truly means something to me, and I will cherish that first viewing in the theaters for the rest of my life. Thank you Disney/Pixar.

  • Thanks for sharing, dude. Everybody has those films that connect with them in an incredibly personal way. I have a feeling for many people Pixar movies accomplish that.

  • Terrific film. Definitely an A. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the wonderful short that preceded it. That was great too.

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