For filmmakers that are actually serious about their craft, third installments have a unique blend of difficulties. That’s why, when you weed out the nonsense and popcorn efforts, there really aren’t that many of them around. Pixar is unquestionably a studio that takes their fun seriously, but the trifecta is a treacherous hill to climb. Toy Story 3 is a fun film, and it’s sure to be a favorite among the younger crowd, but the majority of its power for anyone else is all too comparable to the sentiment Andy has looking through his toy box as he prepares to head off to college.
There is perhaps a strange mixture of Pixar‘s apparent effort to grow up (Up and Wall-E as prime examples), and this story’s focus on Andy doing just that. Eventually becoming almost sub-textually self-referential, we revisit old things in our chests with Andy, and while we may say things like, “Aww… Woody!” and reminisce about some great times, that doesn’t mean we want to play with them.
As mentioned above, the story kicks off with Andy getting ready to head off to college. He still has some of his favorite toys in his room, but now we’ve come to the moment of truth. Everything in his room is either leaving with him, going into the attic, getting donated to a daycare, or hitting the curb.
Woody makes it into the college box, but the rest are going into storage. Until they all wind up on the way to Sunnyside Day Care, of course. Despite Woody’s efforts to explain, the toys all think Andy meant to throw them away. Nevermind though, things look bright at Sunnyside. It’s been so long since they’ve been played with, that it all seems like a dream. Of course, dreams turn into nightmares, and we soon learn that Lotso (Ned Beatty) isn’t the friendly, strawberry-scented bundle of fluff he seems. It turns out that Sunnyside is a prison, and Lotso is the inmate running the joint. It may not sound so bad, but those toddlers can deal out the carnage when they want to.
Most of the elements are here, and all the new toys certainly add to the fun, but somewhere along the way a certain mentality of “good=serious” seems to have taken over this production. There are still fun moments, but the air of fun is missing. That isn’t surprising given the situation our toys find themselves in, but there is a strange level of intensity working its way through what we probably expected was another cute-ish adventure. Even allowing for the idea of a Toy Story prison break feature, it seems something a bit more Hogan’s Heroes and less The Great Escape might be in order.
Still, Pixar that isn’t quite up to par is still better than most things, but when you see an example of Deus ex machina popping up in your animated film (even if it is cleverly literal), you know things have gone a bit wrong. The reason the device exists is that you’ve written yourself into a corner to build up the drama or intensity to an almost absurd level, and you don’t really know why. It’s not quite what you expect from Pixar.
At the end of the film, we get a touching scene in which Andy actually plays with his toys. It comes together pretty well, you knew it would, but I wanted my chance as well, and the movie never delivered more than the flashback sequences it started with. I got to say, “Aww… Woody!” but I didn’t get to play with him.
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