Principal Cast : Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Estelle Harris, John Ratzenberger, Jodi Benson, Laurie Metcalf, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, Bonnie Hunt.
Synopsis: Buzz, Woody and the gang are about to loose Andy, who is off to college. An accidental mix-up causes all the toys to be shipped to a day-care centre, where they’re treated cruelly by under-age children.
Animated film have come a long way since the inaugural feature film created solely on a computer. That film, Toy Story, revolutionized Hollywood animation forever, and has since given us license to create more and more magical worlds to explore and enjoy – from the fantasy world of Shrek, the undersea kingdom of Dory, Marlin and that scallywag Nemo, to the pop-culture savvy jungles of Madagascar – CGI animation has evolved along with our expectations of these films. With the release late last year of the third Toy Story film on BluRay, a long-awaited conclusion to the adventures of Buzz and Woody, we’ve come full circle – like Return Of The Jedi, the realization of the story arc has been long in coming, but well worth the wait. And once more, our expectations have been well and truly exceeded: Toy Story 3 succeeds on virtually every single film-making level. Testament to the quality of Pixar’s development cycle, they’ve once more given us a film that seems to transcend the very medium of animated film: it’s a moving, enveloping and exciting entertainment event, and one that recaptures the nuances of the first two films in the franchise.
Buzz, Woody and the gang are once again in crisis mode as Toy Story 3 opens: Andy, their owner, is off to college, and the toys’ future is uncertain. They’re either going to be dumped, sent to the local daycare center for the kids to play with, or boxed and dumped in the attic. A mix up in transit leaves the toys about to be dumped, and then transported to Sunnyside Daycare, where they are given the royal treatment by plush-toy Lotso Huggin’ Bear, and his sidekick Ken (whom Barbie naturally falls for). Problem is, Lotso and his gang rule Sunnyside’s toys with an iron fist, and the gang are all locked away in the pre-schooler section, the roughest bunch of kids you could ever hope to see. Woody, who’s decided to return to Andy and hopefully go to college with him, is found by a young girl who takes him home and introduces him to a new world of fun and family – but Woody’s desire for Andy’s affections causes him to leave once more. When he learns, though, of Lotso’s regime of terror at Sunnyside, Woody must save not only his friends, but put a stop to the evil toy-abuse taking place at the centre.
Darker, more intense and decidedly less playful than both the previous films, Toy Story 3 takes us to the story arc alluded to in the sequel film: the problem of what happens to the toys when Andy grows up, and doesn’t need them any more. The fear of abandonment is key to the story, the driving force behind the actions of both Woody and the rest of the toys, and a plot device director Lee Unkrich uses quite well considering it’s a film aimed at kids. While Jessie’s story of being abandoned by her owner in Toy Story 2 was delicately handled, almost fairy-tale like, here the narrative takes a more critical path due to the fact that we’ve been waiting for this to happen. It’s been hinted at, tipped towards, and now, in part 3, we’re finally here. It was always going to be a delicate balance between the light and dark elements of this story, considering the fact that the original two films gradually became more adult-toned as they progressed (at least, in my mind they did), and while Toy Story 3 retains the key elements that made the first two films so successful: the ability to remain kid-friendly while still entertaining more hardened adult viewers. Don’t be fooled: there are moments in Toy Story 3 that aren’t suited to the youngest of viewers (particularly towards the end, where our toy heroes are facing imminent destruction at the hands of a massive garbage disposal furnace), and the themes involved are also quite complex for the kidlets as well, but the essence of the film holds firm: friendship and family are important. (An aside: I’d go as far to say that the moment in this film where Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the other toys are seemingly being swept to their doom in a garbage disposal complex, and they become resigned to their fate, is as powerful a moment as any you’re likely to see – it’s on par with the moment in film 1 where Buzz discovers that he’s actually a toy and not a space ranger. It’s probably the best single animated moment ever seen.)
From a story point of view, Story 3 is well crafted, honest and at times very very funny. There’s a slew of new characters introduced, and where many sequel films collapse under the weight of trying to shoehorn in a bunch of characters new to the saga, Toy Story 3 does this in such a clever and appealing way that it never feels forced. In fact, the sudden onrush of new toys and characters is done in such a way as to somehow alienate the viewing audience in much the same way the toys themselves are, a clever technique by Unkrich and Co. Tom Hanks, as Woody, and Tim Allen as Buzz, once again provide sterling vocal efforts, as does the majority of the rest of the cast. Michael Keaton is suitably inane as Ken, Barbie’s romantic interest. Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid, is great in her much expanded role as Barbie this time round, perhaps a fill-in for the lack of Bo Peep from films 1 & 2, who was written out due to a lack of character potential. Cameo vocals from Tim Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg and others all feel a little superficial, but it’s negligible overall. Chief villain, Lotso, is voiced by Ned Beatty, who does a great (if unremarkable) job giving life to the angry-on-the-inside plush toy with a grudge against the world. The writers have, in what I found to be a great story twist, given Lotso perhaps the biggest character arc in the whole film, as we learn just why he is the way he is, and it’s genuinely understandable that he’s like that. Which is a testament to the writers that we feel sympathy towards the films main villain, in that he’s just as poignantly developed as Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest.
Considering just how similar Lotso and Jessie’s back-stories are, I was a little surprised that the filmmakers didn’t capitalize on this to a degree, but I can also understand their reluctance to deviate from the core story of Buzz and Woody’s relationship. Woody and Buzz, though, don’t have as much character development in this film, due to the limited time they’re given on-screen; and the majority of Buzz’s story involves him being reset to Spanish mode, where he dances the flamenco and misinterprets the situation. A fair portion of time is granted to the second-tier characters, the supporting cast, and while a fair amount of the film’s humour is derived from this element, it is also where a lot of the narrative support is found. The relationship between Barbie and Ken, between the Potato Heads, between Woody and Jessie, and Lotso and Big Baby, are all explored in this film, and it’s these elements that make TS3 the film it is. It’s a film of loss, of change and overcoming adversity, and the themes are universal to us all.
Story aside for a moment, the brilliance of Pixar is once again on display with the animation itself. Technically, Toy Story 3 looks amazing, from the detail in Lotso’s plush fur, to the frankly astonishing level of detail in the major showpiece that concludes the film: the toys are being sent to their doom against an unstoppable, overpowering garbage crushing machine. The lighting, camera angles and sheer level of detail in every frame is wonderful to watch, and I seriously doubt there’s another contender for animated film work at the next Oscars. The sound design, which featured the first use of 7.1 discrete audio in cinemas, is superb, from the bombastic action-epic opening sequence, to the aforementioned garbage chute sequence, to the chaotic playtime moments in Sunnyside: this is an enveloping, exquisite film to listen to. It’s like brain candy of the highest order.
Toy Story 3 is, far and away, the perfect conclusion to the franchise, and a superb film in its own right. While much of the film won’t make sense to those who haven’t seen the first two films (let’s face it, why bother explaining this film to those 2 people anyway?) it takes the characters we know and love and once more puts them in peril, both mentally and physically. Buzz and Woody deserved a fitting final farewell, and the people at Pixar have delivered them (and us) the best possible outcome. Superb.