When the original Toy Story debuted way back in the 1990s, it was undeniable we were all looking at a groundbreaking film. It wasn’t only because of Pixar’s breakthrough innovations in the world of computer-generated animation. Actually, what truly set the movie apart from the rest of the pack was its brilliant use of personality animation. The toys were truly unforgettable characters, and that was what made the movie an instant classic.
Then just when one thought the first movie couldn’t be topped, Pixar’s John Lasseter and his brilliant team of animators release Toy Story 2 in 1999. Again, it was an incredible adventure that topped the box office and another instant classic.
This year saw the release of Toy Story 3, and now the franchise has done the darn near impossible. It not only became the biggest money making animated film of all time at over $1 billion worldwide, but must be considered the final chapter of one of the greatest film trilogies of all time, right up there with Lord of the Rings and the true first three Star Wars films (that is A New Hope through Return of the Jedi).
Actually, what’s truly impressive about the film is how close it stays in a realistic time line. Set about a decade after TS2, the toy’s owner Andy has grown up and is now getting ready for college. His last dilemma before leaving is what to do with the toys. It’s pretty obvious he still cares very much about them.
He comes to the decision to only take Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) with him to school. The rest will be stored in his family’s attic until he’s ready to reclaim them. But through some unexpected circumstance, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the toys wind up at the Sunnyside Day Care Center. It’s run by a plush bear, Lotso (Ned Beatty) who is just only slightly less sadistic than Strother Martin’s Captain from Cool Hand Luke.
This leads to another interesting point regarding TS3. It has to be one of the darkest films to come out of Pixar. What the toys go through while inside Sunnyside pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable for truly small children (about three or younger). The grand finale of the toy’s escape has to be the darkest and scariest done in animation since the truly under-appreciated Monster House.
Yet it is the true conclusion that elevates Toy Story 3 to true classic. How Andy handles the toys’ future is a bittersweet statement about growing up and leaving behind one’s “childish things.” Yes, it can be a tad mawkish and does it’s best to pull on the viewers’ heartstrings, but when it’s all said and done, it’s hard to argue the final denouement. True, Toy Story 3 takes families to some very dark places. It also did it’s best to jerk as many tears out of us as it could. Yet it leaves on an incredible high note, something almost transcendent. Yes, it’s the last thing one usually expects from an animated feature film.
The reason for this is quite simple. It must always be remembered that Lasseter is a direct disciple of master animator Walt Stanchfield, whose other students range from Tim Burton to the Nine New Men that currently run Disney’s animated feature films. In turn, one of Lasseter’s prodigies is this film’s director, Lee Unkrich.
As Unkrich proudly states in the film’s extra content, he started as an editor on the original Toy Story film, and worked his way up the studio’s ladder to his current solo director’s spot. He has a heavy emotional investment in this series, and it isn’t hard to see that Lasseter and his story team insured the true Disney tradition of personality animation is also hard-drived into the entire process.
When all is said and done, Buzz, Woody and all the other characters are infused with as much emotion as currently be infused in CGI animation. If anything, Beatty deserves a Best Supporting Actor slot for his voicing of Lotso, and Toy Story 3 should be considered for Best Picture, period, not just Best Animated Feature Film come the next round of Oscars.
It should also be noted that the DVD release is a toy box crammed to the hilt with amazing things to play with. Luckily for all, it includes the tremendous short, Day and Night, that was distributed with the original movie. It also is jam packed with both top notch fun and informative extra content ranging anywhere from some sweet games to informative commentary and making of documentaries.
In all, this is a must-have for animation fans of all ages. I can see Toy Story marathons happening much the same way there are those for Rings or the Star Wars cycle. It also makes one truly curious to see how Pixar can ever top this film, if ever.