Director Lee Unkrich says that when he embarked on this film he watched every movie he could find with a “3” in its title, hoping to find a good one he could use as a role model. He came up empty-handed. Perhaps that’s one reason he and his colleagues at Pixar put so much effort into this sequel—to validate its existence. It’s that work ethic, along with creativity and seemingly boundless imagination, that makes Toy Story 3 so good.
The movie’s strongest asset is its familiar “stars.” It’s great to spend quality time, once again, with Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie the cowgirl, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Slinky dog, and all the others who populate this world of toys. These are wonderful, well-defined characters, and the actors who provide their voices do yeoman service here. Every time Mr. Potato Head
—opens his mouth (courtesy of Don Rickles) he gets a laugh, just as every wisecrack that comes from piggy bank Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and exclamation from T-Rex (Wallace Shawn) scores a direct hit. There are no weak links in this vocal chain, starting at the top with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.
Framing their new adventure is a situation that many families will relate to: Andy, whose room has been the toys’ home for so many years, is heading off to college, and doesn’t quite know what to do with his childhood playthings. Quite by accident the toys are bagged and sent to a local day-care center where, Woody reassures them, they will be played with (which is what all toys want, of course). However, things don’t go as planned, and therein lies the tale, which I will not spoil.
I will say that Toy Story 3 turns unexpectedly dark, which I found somewhat disconcerting—especially the potent villainy of one of the new characters. I know that any good story must involve some adventure, even peril, but this one may be a bit intense for young children—I know it was for me!
The salve for this is the expression of true friendship that unites our protagonists at their moment of truth, and the way the movie tugs at our heartstrings in its poignant finale. The geniuses at Pixar understand that for a movie to have resonance it can’t be built on a foundation of glib jokes and visual gags: they pepper their film with plenty of laughs (some of which will amuse parents more than children) but more important, they make us care about these animated characters as if they were real. In a sense they are: they live in our imagination.
John Lasseter and his team use the storytelling template developed by Walt Disney, which serves them extremely well, but they’ve also turned to live-action writers to make their screenplays as rich as they can be. In this case, Michael Arndt, who won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, collaborated with the Pixar folks. Then they flesh out that blueprint with incredible visual detail. Toy Story 3 is not only good-looking but exquisitely designed, from top to bottom, with no shortage of fleeting, even sneaky, throwaway gags and references. (See if you can find the homage to Hayao Miyazaki or Walt Disney’s Spin and Marty.)
Randy Newman’s evocative score provides yet another link to the first and second installment in this series, and I enjoyed the new song (“We Belong Together”) he sings over the closing credits.
Perhaps the least impressive aspect of this feature is its use of 3-D, which might best be described as subdued. I suspect that the Pixar folks don’t care that much about the medium because their films are already so dimensional. And that’s fine with me.
Lee Unkrich shares screenplay credit with the aforementioned Michael Arndt and Pixar veterans John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. They can be proud of what they’ve achieved here, and I think audiences of all ages will be grateful.
To read Todd McCarthy's Toy Story 3 review click HERE.