I distinctly remember the first time I saw Toy Story 3. As a broke-ish 20 year old college student, I typically waited for movies to come out on Redbox before watching them, but I loved the Toy Story franchise so much as a kid I made an exception for this movie. From the opening scene, they had me again. I loved the instant sense of adventure and happiness evoked from the simple act of a child playing with his toys, and I remembered how it felt when I was 6 and I saw Woody and Buzz for the first time. These lighthearted memories quickly turned into a wistful, almost painful nostalgia as we learn that Andy is going to college, and needs to decide what to do with his toys. Their schemes and plots to get Andy to notice them, and Woody’s steadfast belief that they will be accompanying him to college, are funny yet heartbreaking. I know exactly what happened to my toys when I went to college, and it did not involve them making the journey with me. The audience knows Andy has grown up, and starts to prepare for an emotional goodbye.
The plot for Toy Story 3 was not always centered around Andy leaving for college. During Disney-Pixar’s brief falling-out from 2004-2006, Pixar developed a different plotline involving Buzz being broken and shipped to Taiwan to be repaired. The other toys find out the company is sending refurbished replacements instead of fixing the originals, so the gang ships themselves to Taiwan to rescue Buzz. When Disney-Pixar reconciled, part of their agreement was to scrap projects developed during their division. This was fortuitous because although the above plot could have been fun, the ultimate decision to send Andy to college is the type of brilliance that keeps Pixar movies rated so highly time after time.
The brilliance of the plot is simple. Pixar has taken a significant life moment and applied it directly to their original audience. The children who grew up playing with Andy in 1995 are experiencing the same life changes as Andy in 2010. Our empathy with our childhood friends (Buzz, Woody, Rex) is only matched by our empathy with Andy, as he takes the huge, terrifying step out of childhood and into adulthood. Pixar planned perfectly for the timing and life experiences of their original audience. At the same time, the story is timeless in that it does not exclude other viewers.
Pixar’s winning formula continues with the inclusion of many favorite moments from the first two movies (“the clawwwww”, Woody’s lines being rediscovered by another child) while adding new fun elements like the Barbie/Ken dynamic and Mr. Potato Head becoming Mr. Tortilla Head followed quickly by Mr. Pigeon Food. The villain was great and the prison escape was fun and creative.
By the end of movie, the audience (meaning me) is sobbing uncontrollably into their overpriced popcorn as Andy finds a wonderful new home for his childhood friends and takes the time to play with them one last time. The film is able to evoke a strong sense of closure amidst the angst of a powerful life-changing moment.
Bottom-line: It is always difficult to rank a sequel above an original simply because the sequels rely on the foundation of the original, but I can confidently say Toy Story 3 is my favorite Pixar film. Toy Story 4 has big shoes to fill.
-Lotso can be seen in Toy Story (1995) – During the staff meeting, we catch a glimpse of an early version of Lotso when Woody asks if the toys on the top shelf can hear him. (In 1995, the 3D animation was not advanced enough to effectively animate certain elements like fur.
-The garbage man is Sid from Toy Story (1995). Did you recognize his shirt?
-One of three animated films to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. (The other two are Beauty and the Beast and Up.)
-Tim Allen and Tom Hanks love the chemistry between their characters, and insisted on recording their lines together (which – surprisingly- is not commonly done in animated films).