Film Review: Toy Story 3

Enormously entertaining third chapter in the computer-animated series that started it all. Delighted audiences will ensure a long shelf life for Pixar's iconic toy collection.

In the 11 years since Toy Story 2, Pixar has created many indelible characters, from Marlin, Dory and Nemo to the Incredible family, Remy the rat, Wall-E and Carl Fredricksen. But none has eclipsed Woody and Buzz and their toy-box neighbors from Pixar’s 1995 debut feature, the movie that ignited today’s computer-animation revolution.

It’s a joy to report that the long-awaited 3D Toy Story 3 is one of the very best movies in Pixar’s amazing run of critical and box-office successes. From first scene to last, it’s bountifully inventive entertainment for all ages which delivers everything you want from a movie: laughs, suspense, tears, and sheer exhilaration.

The film should even attract adolescents who feel they’ve outgrown “kids’ movies,” since the plot hinges on Andy, the kid from the original films, now a teenager headed off to college and disposing of the neglected playthings in his bedroom toy chest. Andy dumps his old toys (with the exception of loyal cowboy Woody) into a garbage bag intended for the attic but taken out with the trash. The toys escape and stow away in a box for the local daycare center—a seemingly idyllic new home until they discover they’ve been assigned to the room for the very youngest children, who inflict numerous counts of assault and battery on our helpless heroes. The new arrivals soon learn that Sunnyside Daycare’s toy world is run like a high-security prison, led by the deceptively folksy but ruthless pink and white teddy bear named Lots-O’-Huggin’.

The second half of Toy Story 3 is essentially a jailbreak thriller, as Woody returns from the outside world to help his friends, hindered by the fact that his ally, space ranger Buzz, has been reset to “demo” mode and is being commandeered by the bad guys. The resulting caper is consistently imaginative (with some especially heroic and hilarious contributions from Don Rickles’ Mr. Potato Head), climaxing in a truly harrowing trip to the local landfill (which may be too dark and scary for little children).

Toy Story 3 reminds you how much the first two films benefitted from astute voice casting, from Tom Hanks’ warm and energetic performance as Woody to Tim Allen’s stalwart Buzz, from Wallace Shawn’s incongruously neurotic T-Rex to Pixar regular John Ratzenberger’s wisecracking piggy bank. Barbie’s Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) makes his first appearance in the series and steals all his scenes with his endlessly entertaining wardrobe and his insistence that he isn’t an accessory or a girl’s toy.

The first Toy Story still looks surprisingly good after all the technical breakthroughs that followed, and the characters haven’t really changed from 15 years ago. But now their environments are more photorealistic than ever; the moody flashback sequence chronicling how Lotso the bear became so bitter is pure film noir, and the climactic landfill sequence is packed with hellish details. Director Lee Unkrich, a Pixar veteran, and screenwriter Michael Arndt (an Oscar winner for Little Miss Sunshine) enlarge the Toy Story world right from the opening, an elaborate Wild West free-for-all that turns out to be all in the mind of the young Andy, whose growth is chronicled in a montage of home-videos.

The film ultimately returns to Andy (voiced by John Morris, the same actor from the earlier movies) and a touching reunion with Woody, Buzz and the entire gang that may force you to wipe away some tears from your 3D glasses. As in their previous triumph Up, the Pixar artists never shy from genuine emotion and deeper resonance. The nostalgia—for these now-iconic characters and for the memories of childhood the series evokes—is fully earned in this masterly third chapter.