Every filmmaker stumbles from time to time. Even the greats like Hitchcock and Kubrick have a few boners in their pantheon, along with other movies that do the job and not much more. Part of the ballyhoo over Pixar stems from the fact that they alone seem to have avoided that trap. Everything they produce stands head and shoulders above its competitors, throwing off the filmmaking curve like a genius in remedial English class. At worst, their efforts are pretty good, and at best? Well, at best they produce movies like Toy Story 3. Hit the jump for my full review.
The original Toy Story set Pixar on its winning ways back in 1995, and the first sequel achieved that rare feat of surpassing the original in depth and quality. Toy Story 3 picks up after a ten-year break… rarely a good sign in any franchise. But John Lasseter’s boys constructed the first two films so perfectly that the logical third step appeared fully formed out of thin air. Toy Story 2 raised the grim prospect of what happens when Andy—owner of Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen), Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and all those other wonderful playthings—finally grows up and casts them aside. Toy Story 3 need only take that question to its presumed conclusion.
Andy is now 18 and heading off to college, leaving the gang to be packed up in the attic forever. The receive an apparent respite when Andy’s mom accidentally ships them to the nearby daycare center . It looks great at first, with an eternal supply of enthusiastic children and a friendly new group of toys under the leadership of Lotso Huggin Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty) to welcome them. Only Woody stays loyal to Andy, which pays dividends when the day care center shows its true colors. The toys in charge Bogart the attentions of the sweeter children, leaving the new fish to be savaged by age-inappropriate hellions. Those who fight back suffer unspeakable punishments, turning a seeming haven into a Stalag 17-style prison camp. It’s up to Woody to free his buddies and set things right.
Like all of Pixar’s films, the simple structure allows for surprising depths, both in the intricacy of the plotting and the characters’ emotions. Director Lee Unkrich never loses track of who these figures are, giving Woody and Buzz the lion’s share of attention without forgetting the myriad of supporting characters (both old and new) beneath them. The story is packed to the gills with hairpin turns and intricate twists, and yet it never overwhelms the central figures. That allows Toy Story 3 to quietly grip our sympathies, leading to a shockingly powerful emotional pay-off in the last fifteen minutes. The film isn’t afraid to go to some very dark places, and yet it earns our heartfelt reactions by never playing for cheap gratification.
The results come closer to mainstream perfection than most films could ever hope for… a trick Pixar pulls off with workmanlike regularity. We’ve come to expect such feats out of them, but by achieving it for the third straight time with the same characters, they enter into uncharted territory. No director, however accomplished, can match their track record, and no Part 3 ever reached the lofty heights this one does. (We’ll get Return of the King out of the way on the “it’s all just one big film” technicality.) I’d say that sooner or later they’re going to drop the ball, but judging by Toy Story 3, that moment is a long, long ways away.
As befits a release of this stature, Disney has brought a staggering number of features to the Blu-ray. The case contains four discs holding Blu-ray, DVD, and digital versions of the film. A second Blu-ray disc holds nothing but bonus features: multiple documentaries, an alternate commentary track, copious trailers and an interactive trivia game. The main Blu-ray also contains a copy of “Night and Day” (the animated short that ran with Toy Story 3’s theatrical release) and a another collection of Buzz Lightyear’s “adventures” aboard the International Space Station. The trailers actually contain some of the best material, including a series of phony live-action ads for Lotso Huggin. But everything here is insightful and entertaining, providing plenty of support for a film that constitutes a must-own even without the bells and whistles. (Having said that, a brief word of warning: the DVD contains only repeat versions of certain features that appear on the Blu-ray, and the main disc continues Disney’s lamentable practice of choking us with previews before getting to the main feature.)