11 years on from their last outing, Woody, Buzz and the whole gang are back to complete their own majestic motion picture trilogy. 1995’s Toy Story and 1999’s Toy Story 2” were joyous pieces of cinema, but against all odds the geniuses at Pixar appear to have saved the best until last with Toy Story 3. The film operates both as a riotous comedy and a heartfelt finale to this sublime saga, finding chuckles and tears with the ease and subtlety that only the finest films can. Wrapped beautifully into a delightful jailbreak template, Toy Story 3 is an astounding achievement, and may represent the finest work Pixar has yet produced. It’s that good.
Andy is now 17 years old and bound for college, having left his toys untouched for several years. Only a few of the toys are still left, with most having been passed on over the course of Andy’s adolescence. Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) are still at the head of the plastic pack and are prepping the rest of the gang for retirement in the attic, a natural destination in the life of a toy. However a mix up finds the toys donated to a day-care centre, something that initially seems promising but quickly devolves into a state of panic and imprisonment. The day-care is presided over by a tyrannical plush bear called Lotso (Ned Beatty), a ruler who keeps all inmates securely locked away and monitored outside of playtime hours. In a bid to return home and serve the rest of their lives out together as a family in Andy’s attic, Woody devises an escape plan, but with Buzz malfunctioning into his old ways and Lotso having deployed state of the art security, getting out might mark the group’s toughest adventure yet.
Toy Story 3 is a sweet and satisfactory conclusion to this franchise. One has to remember that Toy Story was the initial effort from the now celebrated Pixar studio, and thus the characters that have inhabited this series are remembered with particular fondness by cinema goers. Director Lee Unkrich (co-director on Toy Story 2) delves into some pretty dark areas in this hopefully climactic addition to the series, and delivers a superb finish for each individual character. Some of the key players from past adventures are gone, but Woody, Buzz, Rex, Hamm, Jesse, Mr Potato Head and Slinky remain major factors in Toy Story 3, and each is given the natural and touching finish they deserve. Toy Story 3 doesn’t pull any punches as it seeks to explore the themes of family and a true sense of home, feasting on some wonderfully assembled prison based shenanigans in the process. This series has always had a knack for melding emotionally rewarding instances of sincerity with pure unbridled hilarity, and Toy Story 3 might represent the slickest combining of these two strands yet encountered within the franchise.
The cast are just as good as before, and so it seems unnecessary to divulge at any great length on the recurring voice talent. The film brings two notable new additions to the table, Ken (Michael Keaton) and the villainous Lotso. Keaton does fantastic work as the rampant metrosexual doll who finds his dream Barbie, but the character of Lotso is less successful. The only real folly I found within Toy Story 3 is the repetitive nature of the bad guy, which is no fault of a game Beatty, but rather some unadventurous writing. Lotso is an ample antagonist but his unloved story arc feels oddly reminiscent of the Prospector’s from Toy Story 2, and his nice guy shill routine at the beginning is easy to see through. A few other fresh faces are fired into proceedings (through a lovely subplot in which Woody ends up in the bedroom of a charming and imaginative new child) but they serve more as the source of some solid gags rather than anything more substantial.
The jailbreak plotline is executed spectacularly, finding a gripping tone of suspense and lasting much longer than audiences will likely anticipate. The screenplay finds a wealth of good comedy and some genuinely unnerving sequences amongst this particular plot thread, Toy Story 3 managing a few moments of action that even Michael Bay could be proud of. Adding to the sense of visual audacity is the stunning animation and gorgeous environments that have been created for the production, possibly the finest CGI yet sighted in popular mainstream entertainment. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as Pixar have been surpassing themselves aesthetically for years, but it’s still a tremendous achievement worth remarking on.
Toy Story 3 is probably the funniest film of the year so far, but it’s definitely the most intimate and emotionally affecting. The final act is riddled with worthwhile giggles (Buzz in Spanish mode) but also moments of true insight and heartfelt neurosis, all culminating in one of the most devastating sequences ever in a family film. Said scene takes place in a furnace and involves a moment where several characters join hands, marking a bittersweet and brave direction for this motion picture to take. Sensitive souls will be moved to tears without a doubt, and due to the engaging connection these characters have nurtured with audiences over the last 15 years; even tougher viewers might struggle to keep their tear ducts dry.
The film avoids the musical montages of the previous movies (albeit Randy Newman’s legendary compositions are still floating about) which is possibly for the best, the stunning blend of melody and visuals found in Toy Story 2 would have been almost impossible to top. Toy Story 3 instead aims to bring this behemoth of a tale to an organic and gratifying conclusion, something it achieves with virtually no stumbles along the way. I have no qualms in labelling Toy Story 3 a stunning work of art, and heartily endorse it as the masterful climax these enchanting characters have always deserved.
Director: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Michael Keaton
Runtime: 103 min