Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles
Directed by: Lee Unkrich (“Finding Nemo”)
Written by: Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), John Lasseter (“Toy Story 2”), Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”), Lee Unkrich (debut)
It’s difficult enough for some live-action films to express human emotion through human characters without sometimes crossing the line into melodramatic territory. Who knew 15 years ago it would be Pixar Animation Studios that would create a trilogy of films that would clearly defined the term “unconditional love” and convey it through a computer-generated boy and his plush, pull-string toy?
While the original classic “Toy Story” from 1995 was an exciting, nonstop adventure featuring a cast of uniquely-imagined characters, it was “Toy Story 2” that truly illustrated the intrinsic connection children and toys share with one another. In “Toy Story 3,” the significance of these relationships has come full circle in a sentimental and clever, but also dark and profound narrative undoubtedly worthy of being a part of Pixar’s growing distinction as the best animation house ever built.
With screenwriting duties going to Academy Award winner Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), it’s evident Pixar – while a majority of its fan base are kids and families – isn’t simply playing for empty laughs. There is some seriousness in “Toy Story 3” from the very beginning.
It would have been easy enough to pick up from the same happy-go-lucky tone the last movie ended on, but instead Arndt and director Lee Unkrich take a realistic approach to the time passed. Andy (John Morris) is no longer the little boy who would play in his room for hours with the assortment of toys we’ve all grown to love. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and most of the original toys are still present (others have met their fate by way of yard sales and spring cleaning), but at the age of 17, Andy hasn’t played with them in years.
Now, the toys long for the attention they used to receive when Andy was an imaginative grade-schooler. They also worry about what will become of them once Andy leaves for college. What will life in the attic be like once they’re placed in storage? Will any of them be given away or worse, tossed into the garbage?
When Andy’s toys are accidentally placed onto the curb for trash pick-up and subsequently donated to a local day care center, Buzz and the gang try to make the best of it although Woody is insistent about finding their way back home. But when a group of second-hand toys led by the a strawberry-scented teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) welcome them with open, fluffy arms and explain that “no owners means no heartbreak” the daycare’s newest residents are sold on the idea.
Playtime, however, doesn’t turn out to be what was expected. Lotso and his crew, including Ken (Michael Keaton), an octopus toy named Stretch (Whoopie Goldberg), and a lazy-eyed baby doll, run the daycare like a prison. While Woody is able to escape, he ends up in a whole new situation when he is found outside the day care center and taken home by Molly (Beatrice Miller), a shy little girl with her own collection of huggable toys, including Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), a thespian hedgehog.
Created with any number of prison-break movies in mind, Pixar takes “Toy Story 3” and gives it enough visual flash and flat-out hilarious moments that rival anything the animation studio has ever done. The film’s success, however, doesn’t end at the flawless character rendering and production value. There is an innovative spirit to it that is rare for any animated film to generate. From moments of pure delight and chilling anxiety to one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes in recent memory, “Toy Story 3” wraps up the franchise in masterful fashion and once again proves Pixar is on a level all its own.