All sarcasm aside, “Toy Story 3” is the latest brilliant release from a studio whose creative Gatling gun has yet to fire a blank. Maybe not every cinematic shot they’ve taken has been a dead-center bullseye, but everything they touch falls somewhere on the gradient of good to great, which with eleven films under their belt, is certifiably ludicrous.
And since Pixar debuted its first feature, the original “Toy Story,” in 1995, its storytellers and artists have not only refined and mastered their craft, but they’ve done so without failing or having to repeat themselves. Sure, Disney forced their collective hand four years later into doing the follow-up, “Toy Story 2,” but now over a decade later, the studio is dropping its first voluntary sequel.
Maybe because “Toy Story” was such an important part of my childhood, and probably because I grew a lot in the four years separating it from its successor, I never shared the fondness I had for the first film with the second. That likely accounts for the pre-release uncertainty I felt towards this newest installment; I didn’t want to risk the disappointment of another fun but frivolous caper.
Fortunately, “Toy Story 3” almost immediately dispelled my doubts. It combines the rock-solid dramatic core of the studio’s recent work with the classic atmosphere of adventure and clever comedy the two prior “Stories” are known for. It’s a match made in heaven, and though “Toy Story 3” feels slightly redundant of part two at its foundation, the added emotional weight of the toys’ uncertainty that they even have a caring home to return to raises the stakes considerably.
Part three also benefits from feeling more intimate, and consequently, more focused than the trilogy’s middle chapter. “Toy Story 2” was an addition to “Toy Story” in every respect; new protagonists, and more action at a larger scale. “Toy Story 3” begins by stripping away many of the series’ established plastic personages because their owner, Andy (who has aged almost in real time between the releases of the three films), is preparing for college and has outgrown them. The cast is comprised of the best of the best (and Jesse, but whatever), though the narrative focuses squarely on Woody.
As such, not all of the toys’ stories reach individually satisfying ends, but as a unit their curtain call is bittersweet and touching. It is, after all, a film about growing and letting go, a more melancholy motif than some might expect, though Pixar has famously refused to shy away from so-called ‘darker’ themes. What’s genuinely surprising is that the studio made the third “Toy Story” film a vehicle for that ideal set. It’s a thread that finds the gang donated to a local daycare (which eventually becomes a prison-break scenario), and making one last trip home.
Really, when the worst thing you can say about a film is that a few of its jokes fall flat, you likely have something pretty special on your hands. That “Toy Story 3” also concludes a trilogy in such fine form makes it all the more a standout. With it, Pixar have proven once again their unrivaled integrity as a production house not only capable of creating compelling stories, but of franchising those stories in a way that respects and complements the original work. “Toy Story 3” is arguably the best of the lot.
In the coming years, Pixar has at least two more sequels planned, first for “Cars” in 2011, and then for “Monsters Inc.” the following year. If it was ever a concern that the studio was creatively stalling or financially motivated to revisit its established worlds, “Toy Story 3” should put those fears to rest. In fact, we better make more room in the pile.