Movie Review: Toy Story 3
By Matthew Huntley
June 24, 2010

An awkward moment ensues when Andy's mom notices the web site he is visiting.

If Toy Story 3 had been made by any studio besides Pixar, it would be a near masterpiece. It is riotously funny and relentlessly energetic, but it also contains some dark and emotional edges that make it better-rounded. There’s no doubt about it: this is a very good film.

With that said, when you place Toy Story 3 alongside the wonderful Toy Story 2, their similarities become more apparent and only then do you realize the new movie doesn’t quite generate the same “wow” reaction as its predecessor or other contemporary classics like Ratatouille. Because Pixar has an almost impeccable reputation (the black sheep of the family is Cars), and because our expectations are exceptionally (and perhaps unfairly) high, I can’t help but think Toy Story 3 could have been better and more original. After all, it’s Pixar. I write this despite how good the film is.

Eleven years have passed since the last Toy Story, which is the same amount of time that’s passed in the film’s fictional world. Woody the Cowboy (voice of Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) are still leading the pack of colorful toys belonging to their revered owner, Andy (John Morris). The gang is all here, including Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris); Hamm (John Ratzenberger); Rex (Wallace Shawn); and Jessie (Joan Cusack).

Andy is now 17 and about to head off to college. His mom tells him to clean out his room and decide whether his toys stay in the attic, go with him to college or get thrown out. It’s been a long time since Andy played with Woody and pals and a misunderstanding convinces the toys they’ll be tossed out to the curb, but Woody knows the truth and maintains faith Andy still wants them.

To save themselves from the garbage truck, the toys band together and sneak into a donation box headed for Sunnyside Day Care, where a whole other group of toys lives and welcomes them to the neighborhood, so to speak. The leader of the new outfit is a pinkish teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty), who introduces the gang to their new environment and fellow toys, including Ken (Michael Keaton), who instantly raises the eyebrows of Barbie (Jodi Benson). With his multifaceted wardrobe, Ken confides in Barbie, “You know, Barbie, some people just don’t care about clothes.” Very funny.

Refusing to give up on Andy, Woody sneaks out of Sunnyside and leaves Buzz and the others discover they were set up by Lotso to stay in the toddlers’ room. Here, they get tossed, beaten, licked, painted on and pushed up the noses of little kids. When the toys realize they’re actually being held prisoner, they decide to plan an elaborate escape.

At this point, the movie goes full throttle with so many inventive moments that I don’t know where to begin, but I hesitate to list any because they’re so much fun to discover. I’ll just say that one of the best and most original involves a tortilla (yes, a tortilla), and if anyone can find something creative to do with a tortilla, it’s the folks at Pixar.

The movie was directed and co-written by Lee Unkrich, a long-time Pixar veteran who’s had a hand in co-directing some of the studios biggest hits, including the aforementioned Toy Story 2. As with his other films, this one has an incredibly tight and assured narrative that’s bursting with confidence and unexpected twists, which make you wonder how they ever came up them in the first place. That’s one of the consistent pleasures of any Pixar movie - despite them being bright, cheerful and crowd-pleasing, they’re never easy to predict. Sure, we can anticipate their overall outcome, but the individual scenes are so creative that most screenwriters could only hope to dream of such ideas. Have Pixar fans ever stopped to think just how well-written some of the screenplays are? It’s really quite amazing.

Toy Story 3 deserves praise, but I must point out it feels derivative of Toy Story 2 in terms of its central conflict, and more specifically in regards to its villain and climactic action sequence. If you recall from the earlier film, the story was about the toys rescuing each other and trying to make their way home. It also contained a villain who wanted to keep the toys under control for his own selfish reasons and the climax took place on a conveyor belt, which also happens here. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to maintain the series’ magic so badly they stuck with a formula they knew worked instead of coming up with something more original.

Still, this is a superior adventure comedy with plenty of laughs, drama and tension to maintain our excitement, even though the lack of freshness and originality prevent it from becoming a full-on masterpiece. There’s a brilliant sequence toward the end that, had the filmmakers chosen the incredibly risky path they set up, would have pushed the movie into uncharted territory. It probably would have alienated a lot of fans, but it would have been different. Alas, it stays the course as an audience-pleaser and I was pleased, too, but I can’t help but wonder how the movie would have played out with the riskier ending.

When it comes to sequels, I always despise critic blurbs that read, “Such and such has done it again!” And indeed one critic has already written such a blurb about Toy Story 3. But on many levels, Pixar really has done it again. The studio hasn’t topped themselves, per se, but they’ve come close, and when you’re the studio behind a string of mega-blockbusters that are all critically acclaimed, coming within an ear shot of your best efforts is an amazing feat. We may have walked the ground of Toy Story 3 before, but the movie is so funny and entertaining that we’re happy to walk it again.