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- Movie: Toy Story 3
- Rating: G
- Starring (Voices): Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Net Beatty, Michael Keaton, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jodi Benson
- Written By: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
- Directed By: Lee Unkrich
- Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar
- Running Time: 1 hrs. 43 min.
TOY STORY 3 Movie Review
The Third Time’s The Charmer
By Rob Vaux
June 17, 2010
Buzz (Allen) and Woody (Hanks) are back in our review for Pixar's TOY STORY 3(2010).
© Pixar/Bob Trate
How does Pixar keep doing it? I think it’s voodoo; does anyone else think it’s voodoo? There’s certainly no way anyone could assemble their track record by any other means. To a certain extent, Toy Story 3 is just business as usual for them; it’s not as sophisticated as WALL-E, as daring as Up or as groundbreaking as the original Toy Story. But at the same time, it has less to work with than those earlier films: characters who have already been through two adventures (as well as a TV show, theme-park ride and a product tie-in avalanche such that only Disney can provide), and may be running on fumes by now. How does Pixar respond to the challenge? By making those same figures feel like they just came out of the box.
Certainly, the Toy Story gang needs no introduction: childhood playthings who live secret lives outside the vision of their owners. Led by Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), they’ve formed a tight-knit family while helping young Andy develop his vivid imagination. But now, the existential fears that drove the second Toy Story have come to pass: Andy’s going to college, and his former friends seem destined for the family attic.
Salvation apparently lies at Sunnyside Day Care Center, where the gang is donated just before Andy leaves the house. They receive warm welcomes from Lotso Huggin Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty) and his pals Stretch the octopus (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) and an ever-so-slightly fey Ken doll (voiced by Michael Keaton), who assure them that kids will play with them forever. What at first seems like a dream come true soon turns into a plaything’s nightmare, as the new fish are dumped in with age-inappropriate children and beaten to within an inch of their little plastic lives. Lotso runs the center like the Hanoi Hilton, and intends to hold our heroes hostage until gangs of cranky three-year-olds break them for good.
Toy Story 3 use a basic prison escape parody for its framework, as Woody endeavors to bust his buddies free and the surprisingly scary Lotso does everything in his power to stop them. It works exceptionally well as piece of action filmmaking, augmented by Pixar’s usual razor-sharp wit that hits adults and children with equal ferocity. Gags like an old-fashioned Chatter Telephone (voiced by Teddy Newton) serving as Sunnyside’s hard-bitten lifer, or Barbie’s (voiced by Jodi Benson) screamingly hysterical interrogation of Ken work on so many levels that it’s hard to tell which age group will have more fun. The Pixar screenwriters plotted the film as tightly as a Swiss watch, ensuring that every beat arrives just when it should and every key story point has plenty of groundwork laid down in front of it.
Like all of Pixar’s best films, however, Toy Story 3 refuses to let things rest with good technical storytelling. Director Lee Unkrich posits a larger dilemma for his principals: whether to stay loyal to Andy, who really doesn’t need them anymore, or hold fast to each other come hell or high water. Woody never gives up on his former owner, of course, but the others aren’t so sure, and the tension between them provides the film with solid dramatic fodder.
Nor is Unkrich afraid to go to dark places with it. Toy Story 2 resonated with a chilling fear of death: the sense that toys can cease to exist just like people do and that no owner, however loving, will keep them around once adulthood arrives. Toy Story 3 ultimately takes that equation to its most frightening extreme, both at Sunnyside and in places far, far worse. The grim realities Woody and the gang find there may frighten the very young, but also reveal beyond the shadow of a doubt just how much we care about them all. Before we realize it, we’re fearing and hoping and praying for them more than any other characters in recent memory. The stunning climax--easily the best of the year so far--is followed by a denouement that left every hard-bitten critic at the screening I attended sobbing into their popcorn.
To see such emotional tones--funny, scary, thrilling and heartwarming--struck so skillfully is to understand how Pixar remains head and shoulders above any conceivable competition. To see it in a Part Three is to stand in flummoxed awe at the death-defying filmmaking prowess on display.
How many misbegotten trilogy conclusions has Hollywood coughed up, and how few of them meet even the humble goals of basic entertainment? Even that precious handful (Goldfinger, The Last Crusade, and maybe Jedi or Back to the Future III) can only advance so far, as the law of diminishing returns slowly catches up to them. Of the lot, only Peter Jackson’s Return of the King can claim real greatness, a singular achievement unmatched in Hollywood history. Until now. The effortless grace with which Toy Story 3 scales the loftiest heights speaks to a moviemaking dynasty like no other. Laugh with it, cry with it, and treasure the beautiful truths it embodies. We may never see them so perfectly delivered again.