By Brian Lafferty
June 18, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- I remember the day I saw Toy Story in the theater way back in 1995. Back then I was used to the traditional animated fare. Nothing could prepare me for it. That movie was unlike anything I had ever seen. I sat in the theater simply mesmerized. Fifteen years later Pixar has released the third installment in this series. It is a rarity: a third movie in a trilogy that is as successful as its prequels.
In Toy Story 3, Andy is grown up and about to leave for college. He’s outgrown his toys, which are relegated to the toy chest, always forgotten. In a series of freak occurrences, the toys are mistakenly dropped off at a daycare center.
It looks inviting. The toys at the daycare are led by Lotso-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), who assures all except Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), who leaves to get back to Andy, that they will be played with every day. Even if the kids grow up, there will always be new kids to replace them.
It’s too bad they should have left with Woody because they find, to their horror, that the toddlers’ idea of playing is thrashing them around, banging them on tables, covering them in paint and using them as brushes, and slobbering all over them.
If that’s not bad enough, the daycare turns into a prison when the toys rebel. Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is reprogrammed by the bad toys to keep the newcomers in check. Any toys that misbehave are put in the sandbox as punishment. Lotso proceeds to warn them that no toy has ever escaped from the daycare center.
This may sound like the premise for The Great Escape and Midnight Express but Toy Story 3 makes the formula its own. There are all sorts of opportunities to present a daycare center as an inescapable prison. You’ve got racecars patrolling the hallways and a cymbal-banging monkey watching over the security cameras.
The famous prison escape movies may have popped into my head from time to time but Toy Story 3 is so well-made and stood out on its own so well that I wasn’t reminded how good those other movies were. The escape attempt contains clockwork not unlike that seen in the Mission: Impossible TV series but it doesn’t matter because it had me on the edge of my seat.
What makes the Toy Story movies so good is the richness of the stories. They each have a main plot and a subplot that deals with themes related to it. In the original, Buzz replaces Woody as Andy’s favorite toy. This jealousy and bitter rivalry between the two allowed us to see how a toy would feel about a newcomer intruding on his territory. In the second one, Woody is kidnapped by a toy collector to be sold to Japan. Two themes are explored: what happens to toys when they’re broken and discarded as well as dealing with the prospect of their owner growing up.
This one elaborates on the latter theme. The toys knew the time would come when Andy would outgrow them. It doesn’t make dealing with the situation any easier. This theme, as well as having to let go, are what makes this movie very bittersweet. The ending is perhaps the most emotional one yet of any Pixar movie.
Pixar has yet to make a film I wholly disapprove of. It’s not the animation but the characters and story. These hunks of plastic have feelings and the filmmakers have done three times a serviceable job of sharing with us their point of view and how they see the world.
One more thing: see the original 2D version, and not the 3D. Some movies work well with the glasses but Toy Story 3 is not benefited by it.