After the more outside-the-box family films of Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up, Pixar is going back inside the toy box with Toy Story 3. There’s nothing wrong with being inside the box when there are lots of toys, loads of fun, and plenty of jokes. It’s wonderful to see Woody, Buzz, and the gang team up for another adventure (even if it’s the same rescue/escape narrative structure of the first two films). But Toy Story 3 is so eager to entertain, that it almost never takes a moment to breathe. Instead, it’s a movie that’s a roller coaster in the best sense of the term. Set in the mold of a prison break movie, Toy Story 3 may not break with convention or out from under the shadow of the first two films, but it’s a welcome break from this dreary summer.
When we last left Andy’s toys at the end of Toy Story 2, they had accepted that they would stick with Andy for as long as he needed them. But as Andy has grown up, he hasn’t needed them very much and they’ve sat crammed inside his toy box waiting for the chance to be played with again. Believing that they’re about to be thrown away, the toys choose to go to Sunnyside Daycare Center even though Woody tries to explain they were meant for the attic and not the city dump. However, the rest of Andy’s toys think they’ve found paradise with Sunnyside and its happy inhabitants. But they soon learn that they’ve been tricked into being toddler-fodder for a younger age group who don’t so much play with toys as much as come up with creative ways to destroy them. Seeing that Sunnyside isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, the group tries to leave but that pink, stuffed bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) isn’t going to let them. And there you have the set up for your prison-break movie.
With all that set-up, you can probably guess that Toy Story 3 is a little slow to start even though the intro is a thrilling set piece comprised of what Andy imagined when he was playing with the toys as a kid. Once the group reaches Sunnyside, the film kicks into high gear and almost never slows down. The movie is Pixar’s most visually impressive to date, not just in the character detail and their movements, but the number of locations they cover and the amount of objects filling the frame. Toy Story 3 is a movie people will go back to on Blu-ray and go frame-by-frame to find all the little easter eggs. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are actual easter eggs in some of these shots.
While Toy Story 3 boasts a cast of new characters, there are really only two major ones: Lotso and Ken (Michael Keaton). Lotso presents a new dynamic as a Toy Story villain since he’s the first one who’s also a toy. But the toy who steals the show is Ken. Just watching the character walk is hilarious, but Keaton’s performance adds such a terrific façade of charm. Ken is constantly trying to convince others that he’s not a girl’s toy…even though his yellow-and-purple dream home is filled with various outfits that he loves. And credit to Pixar for not going the easy route and just making Ken-is-closeted jokes.
Andy’s toys go through their elaborate escape, I found that while I was having fun, but I also wanted the movie to take a moment and have a character feel something. There’s not really a moment of melancholy like when Buzz realizes he can’t fly out the window in the first Toy Story or the “When She Loved Me” montage in Toy Story 2. That’s not to say that Toy Story 3 is heartless. As it winds to a close, you’ll find your heart strings being pulled apart as you cry into your 3D glasses (the 3D, by the way, looks good—it’s not distracting and adds a nice clarity and depth of field).
Toy Story 3 may not be as good as the first two films, but it’s still a fantastic ride and a nice send-off to the seminal films that took Pixar to a place where the studio had the freedom to make movies like Ratatoutille, WALL-E, and Up. Going back to the toys that started it all, Pixar and director Lee Unkrich have created a movie with exhilarating action, sharp writing, and it’s a bright spot in a disappointing summer. And when it comes time to hit viewers with the emotional punch, Toy Story 3 packs a wallop that will have you in tears by the end.