Sequential Cinema: ‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)

In the decade since Toy Story 2, Pixar established itself as true hit-makers. They were a force to reckon with in the eyes of animation studios. They killed the traditional animated film medium that Disney reigned in. Yet, they didn’t go back to Toy Story. Why would they?

Pixar rode high on original concepts there was no need to re-explore old ideas. Their run from Monsters, Inc to Up was stellar. Finding Nemo beat The Lion King‘s highest-grossing animated film record. Nemo also helped them garner their first Oscar for Best Animated Feature. They teamed with The Iron Giant’s Brad Bird for The Incredibles & Ratatouille. Cars gave them a major media franchise outside of Toy Story. Wall-E‘s one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made. Up received a Best Picture nomination, the second animated feature to do so since 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. Yet, amid the Golden Age of Pixar was drama in 2004.

Pixar’s seven-film contract with Disney was done as Cars would be the last one in 2006. Disney owned the rights to the characters with Pixar not being able to continue the series they made.

“After 10 months of trying to strike a deal with Disney, we’re moving on. We’ve had a great run together — one of the most successful in Hollywood history — and it’s a shame that Disney won’t be participating in Pixar’s future successes.”

– Pixar Chief Steve Jobs, CBS News (2004)

Disney’s direct-to-video division reared its ugly head once more. CEO Michael Eisner decided to build a new studio in the form of Circle 7 animation contract negotiations were turning sour. This studio was tasked to make Toy Story 3. The story featured Buzz being recalled and shipped to Taiwan with the toys venturing to find him. It was a rehash of Toy Story 2, but not as good.

In 2006, that changed when Disney outright Pixar to become part of the Disney family. With that, the direct-to-video project, along with Circle 7, was gone for good. Pixar took the toys out of the toybox once again. This time it was time for reality to take hold and for everyone to grow up.

Rather than continue from where Toy Story 2 left, 3 begins with Andy (John Morris) all grown up at 17-years-old set to go to college. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang now live in the toybox. One day while cleaning out his room, he decides to take Woody with him to college. The rest of the crew will be sent to the attic. Andy places them in a black bag which his mom (Laurie Metcalf) mistakes for being trash. The crew, now upset Andy would throw them away, decide to jump in the donation box to Sunnyside Daycare. Woody warns them about the perils of daycare which falls on deaf ears off the others.

The gang gets introduced to Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (the late great Ned Beatty) and his crew including Ken (Michael Keaton). Woody, who is getting bad vibes from him, tries to escape only to be picked up by a young girl named Bonnie. He ends up at her place meeting new toys who inform him that Lots-O’ is a monster who runs Sunnyside like a prison. Woody decides to head back to Sunnyside to save his friends by setting up a prison escape plan. The plan: make it out of Sunnyside alive via the dumpster and straight on to Andy’s place. That’s if they can get past the guards, an evil Buzz Lightyear, and Lots-O’s crew of thugs. Yet, even if they escape, can they be happy in an attic or can they achieve a new lease on life elsewhere?

Lots-O’ (Ned Beatty) shows Buzz (Tim Allen) and Woody) around Sunnyside. Source: Disney-Pixar

Toy Story 3 is a perfect sequel with wondrous charm, remarkable humor, and heart. It delivers a story about survival and hope amid a hilarious turn on a prison escape plot. Hanks is perfect as Woody comes to terms that Andy being older. He himself is a bit older and more optimistic for the future while the other toys try to accept their fates. Woody’s drive to ensure everyone gets home safe and happy is a far cry from the arrogant jerk he was in the first film.

Buzz in this movie effin’ rules. Buzz goes from the one we love and adore to a cruel drill sergeant under Lots-O’s command via his demo mode. Low-hanging fruit, but whatever). Yet, Spanish Buz, voiced to perfection by Javier Fernández Peña, has me rolling every time he is on-screen. The facial expressions, the flamenco moves, and how he is out of a telenovela always get a laugh out of me. Bravo to Peña on a remarkable performance.

On the villain side of the spectrum, Beatty is a magnificent shitheel in the movie. The transition from a kind old toy to an absolute monster is believable. Rather than heal, he’s bitter, he’s deadly and he doesn’t give a shit. It’s revolting in every way, yet makes him menacing. He might be the most menacing Pixar villain to this day. But, Ken is the most affable. Keaton lets loose as Ken and it is astonishing. Ken is flamboyant, pompous, and materialistic. Keaton exudes that in every line of dialogue. The impromptu fashion show turned interrogation with Barbie, voiced by Jodi Benson, is hilarious. He cringes and sweats with each tear of clothes or threat.

Jesse (Joan Cusack), Woody (Hanks) and Buzz (Allen) are ready to face One-Eyed Bart and his force-field attack dog in Andy’s imgination in the opening sequence. Source: Disney-Pixar

The animation of the film is leaps and bounds the first two films. All the improvements and innovations of the past decade help to elevate the quality. The opening scene is stunning with them going all out on a rampant chase in the west complete with explosions and several barrels of monkeys. It brings to life the scene we saw Andy play in the first film with us seeing how he sees the toy. It’s a stupendous sight to behold. This goes into the designs as the toys have scuff marks.

Their changes over the years are now visible. The world becoming close to photorealistic while not hopping into the uncanny valley. It also helps to make the dramatic end of them almost incinerated all the more terrifying as they approach death. Think of the final scene of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Yet, instead of Arnold dying and giving a thumbs up, every character you grew to love is about to die in front of your eyes. The impact of this scene is not as strong these days as we still have a fourth film to cover.

What remains strong still is the heart at hand. Screenwriter Michael Arndt wrote a brilliant screenplay that asks and answers the question of what’s beyond when one fulfills their purpose in life. It’s a movie about learning to grow from past experiences and how to face the unknown head-on. This does get explored again a tad in the next film, but here it is perfect. The ending scene in particular will make anybody with a heart an absolute wreck.

Andy’s parting with the toys reflects how we, as humans, must part to become our own elves. Andy’s purpose in life isn’t done, but one part of his life is. He doesn’t love them any less, but there is no point anymore to have them in his life currently. The memories will remain, but the story is over. Their purpose with Andy may be done, but they can still strive to fulfill providing love and play with another kid such as Bonnie. I am crying writing this because this ending came at a very important time.

Andy (John Morris) decides to leave his beloved toy Woody (Hanks) with Bonnie (Emily Hahn) as she’s grown attached to him. Source: Disney-Pixar

I watched this movie the week I graduated high school. I had to prepare for the unknown and move on from the past to prepare for a better future. Parting away from what came before is hard, it’s one of the hardest things to do. I didn’t move away , but something changed mentally. Growth came in and, even though it took forever and a day to get to where I am today, the feeling resonates. It was time to move into the unknown with no knowledge of what to expect, but to take what I learned so far with me. This plays into next week’s review too as Toy Story 4 came at another pivotal point in my life.

Toy Story 3 is one of the best films of the 2010s and one of the greatest animated films period. It’s arguable to call it Pixar’s magnum opus. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. It is the culmination of everything that came before it. It is everything that made Pixar a household name. They exceeded all expectations by delivering a film that everyone could love. Toy Story 3 is a film everyone can relate to as we were all kids once. We all had to grow up and move on. We all had to realize our purpose in life and wonder how can we fulfill it. How can we go to infinity and beyond for ourselves? (That was hokey, but being hokey is okay every now and again.). Toy Story 3 is a perfect closer to a trilogy that happened to have a fourth movie.

Final Verdict: 5 out of 5
Toy Story Series: 3/4 Complete

Next time, we pick up where we left off (albeit nine years later). We close out the series with a epilogue to send a cowboy off into the sunset in Toy Story 4.

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