REVIEWED: TOY STORY 3

Toy Story 3

Andy must make a heartbreaking choice.

Though Pixar are renowned for the sophistication of their animated films, their most recent works appear to have taken this maturity to new heights; WALL-E was a daring treatise on human greed, free of dialogue for close to a half hour, while Up’s opening act was a beautiful, heartbreaking poem on love, loss, and faded dreams. Toy Story 3 continues this trend, bringing the series’ long-gestating issues of impermanence and mortality to an immensely poignant conclusion that’s likely to have adults drying their eyes more than kids. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Pixar have struck gold once again with a sequel that is every bit as witty, funny and resonant as the first two films and – at least on an emotional level – it registers several measures more.

Toy Story 3 takes place a good length of time after the last film; Andy is now seventeen years old, preparing to head away to college, and several of his toys have since been thrown away or sold. The remaining crew – cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack), her trusty steed Bullseye, dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head (Don Dickles & Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark replacing the late Jim Varney), piggy bank Ham (John Ratzenberger), and of course, the Squeeze Toy Aliens – are left wrestling over their future, sure to be confined to either Andy’s attic, or the trash. However, when a bagging mix-up causes all of the toys to believe that Andy doesn’t want them anymore, they wind up hitching a ride to Sunnyside Daycare in order to escape being put out with the trash.

At Sunnyside the crew meets a charming bunch of new toys – including Barbie, Ken (Michael Keaton), and a Chatter Telephone – led by the plush, huggable, strawberry-smelling Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), and they are warmly welcomed into their new home. However, friction abounds once Woody tries to convince the toys to return to Andy, and they decide to stay in their colourful new abode where they can get played with every day. However, unforeseen problems soon arise; Lotso is an authoritarian leader who forces the newer toys to take the brunt of the wear and tear from the younger children, and so the toys – aided by Woody – will have to attempt to escape the prison-like daycare centre.

It is fair to say that the third Toy Story is also the darkest by a fair margin, for though the film opens with a wonderful tribute to Andy’s imagination as a child, a following sequence in which the toys desperately attempt to wrangle his attention away from his mobile phone is utterly heartbreaking. Though walking that wafer-thin line between comedy and tragedy, the elements are superbly balanced, and despite there being plenty of tear-inducing moments in Toy Story 3, it is a film that will equally fill you with a childlike sense of wonder rarely experienced in film – animated or otherwise. It is the rare film that offers something for everyone, for while the humour – ranging from witty spoofery to wild slapstick – hits almost without fail, it is the touching farewell to these beloved characters that’s likely to linger long after the credits roll.

Toy Story 3 is a film that almost anyone can relate to in some measure or another; young kids and adolescents will marvel at the beautifully rendered toys, while those off to University or leaving home will no doubt empathise with Andy, and their parents are liable to leave with a lump in their throat after witnessing one especially moving moment between Andy and his mother. In that rare manner, Toy Story 3’s themes – of moving on, and that nothing can last forever – are something all of us, with a finite lifespan, can recognise. The execution is so emotionally perfect that the end result – one of the most heart-melting and resonant conclusions to any such film – is an experience as joyous as it is devastating, and should be more than enough to earn the film a well-deserved Best Picture nomination.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that Toy Story 3 is drunk on nostalgia and mired in dreariness, for the screenplay – written by fantastic Little Miss Sunshine scribe Michael Arndt – cleverly sandwiches the heartfelt elements between the superbly-crafted prison-break story, which parodies The Great Escape with sublime wit. Arndt manages an especially challenging task, of giving each of the film’s characters – of which there are over two dozen – their own moment to shine, the absolute highlight of which involves Mr. Potato Head having to improvise himself a new body. Also superb is the introduction of the neurotic “girl’s toy” Ken, whose questionable sexuality and chequered relationship with Barbie is perfectly milked for all the laughs it’s worth.

Rarely are films of any kind this well conceived, let alone a third entry into a series which should by all means be considered perfunctory. However, in raising the stakes so high – culminating in a scene of such haunting, overwhelming power that it’s sure to be the film’s Oscar clip – Pixar has demonstrated not only their inherent bravery as filmmakers, but their integrity and commitment towards telling ingeniously multi-tiered stories of profound depth and grand hilarity. Pixar’s recent streak of emotionally engaging works just might leave Disney’s Golden Age of yesteryear trailing in the dust.

It is not mere hyperbole to make this rare statement, but Toy Story 3 just might be that rare perfect film. Virtually impossible to fault in any regard – except perhaps for the fairly flat 3D presentation – this beautiful and heart-rending bookend to one of cinema’s most beloved franchises delivers everything fans will want, along with a powerful emotional wallop of an ending. Take out shares in Kleenex, because you’d need a heart of stone not to be moved by this fascinating meditation on life, death, retirement, and most importantly, the sheer innocence and power of a child playing with their toys.

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