At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Toy Story 3

MPAA Rating: G (how?)/ Genre: Animated Comedy-Drama/Voices of: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, John Morris, Don Rickles, Blake Clark, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Jeff Pidgeon, Jodi Benson, Michael Keaton, Emily Hahn, Timothy Dalton, Kristen Schaal, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Angel, Jan Rabson, John Cygan, Laurie Metcalf, Lori Alan, Bea Miller, R. Lee Ermey, Teddy Newton, Richard Kind, Bud Luckey, Javier Fernández Peña, Charlie Bright, Amber Kroner, Brianna Maiwand, Erik von Detten, Jack Willis, Woody Smith/Runtime: 103 minutes

It may be weird to point this out, but every time I find out that Pixar is hard at work on making a new animated slice of cinema for movie goers across the planet I really don’t find myself really stricken with the same degree of worry let alone assumptions I have with the vast majority of the new releases that the other major studios hurtle our way. This is because there is now a part of me deep inside that is fully aware that whatever movie from the studio I am about to give a view is going to be at the very least engaging. Heck even when Pixar makes a movie that is merely good and not great, it still is able to on some level fit in fairly admirable with the definitely great films in Pixar’s filmography. Yes I know there are those who point to the 2nd and 3rd Cars films in particular, but you know as well as I do that the only reason those movies don’t look as good as they ought to is because of the standard of excellence that Pixar has set up for itself. Suffice it to say that for basically my entire life now, this is one studio that has managed to take me, fellow young-at-heart movie goers worldwide, and kids of all ages on animated odysseys beyond all imagining. Odysseys consisting of voyages of riveting fantasy complete with brilliant and quite often emotional narratives, delightful casts of characters, beautifully designed locales, animation that is nothing short of revelatory, and a wonderfully heartfelt sense of humor. Suffice it to say that when I make the choice to view a movie from Pixar, I am now able to say that for at least the first time I watch the film in question I may not wish in any way to be aware of what I am about to get myself involved in, but I also know that is a decision I have yet to come back and slap me upside in the head in any big way either. Yet even with all of that in mind, I have no doubt that for a lot of us there are a lot of you out there who did at the very least get a wee bit uneasy all the way back when the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, 2010’s Toy Story 3, was first announced to the world and in all honesty I completely get it. Sure this was a slice of cinema that was initially looking like a direct to video nightmare only to be rescued from this horrific fate by John Lasseter, but the truth is that a lot of people were still left wondering was it even worth it. Indeed as many in the land of movie magic could undoubtedly tell you making a follow-up to a film as beloved as the first Toy Story was already a cinematic minefield that had been traversed with a beautiful delicateness once before, but to do so again? I mean would an older audience let alone the kids of the next generation so to speak really have in their heart any fondness for a franchise that had been in cinematic hibernation for over 10 years? Well when you factor in the phenomenal work from the animation department, the ever spot-on soundtrack from franchise regular Randy Newman, the on-point tempo and incredible directorial vision from film helmer Lee Unkrich, a downright emotional conclusion that makes for both a bittersweet end yet also a heartwarming new beginning, a brilliantly written screenplay by Michael Arndt, a voice cast that is perfectly tailored to their respective parts no matter how big or small, and an over a billion dollar box office worldwide gross I think it can safely be said that Toy Story 3 proved to be more than just an “brilliant idea”. Rather, this is a powerful slice of cinema that also manages to show not only why cinema IS an art form, but also why there is still magic to be found in the movie realm even when it looks like we as audiences have just about seen the last vestiges of it fade into the darkness.

The plot is as follows: Operating surprisingly in real time, we see that a decade hasn’t just come and gone for us as fans, but also for the dynamic duo of Buzz and Woody also. Indeed despite mostly spending their days in the old toy box nowadays, we see the buddies are still co-leaders of a now significantly smaller group of old friends that Andy, now 17, has chosen to hang on and who try every chance they get to try and spend just one more minute with. Yet with this group of talking toys, there’s always a situation about to unfold. A concept that soon comes to fruition when, as Andy is packing to head off to college, his mom accidentally thinks the bag the toys are in is junk and places them outside to be picked up with the rest of the trash. Of course, Woody, who saw the whole thing unfold, tries to explain the mix-up and of course the other toys don’t listen to him. We soon see the toys make the choice to put themselves in a box of items to be donated to a place known as Sunnyside Daycare Center. A place that, upon their arrival, seems to be a hopeful and nice locale where they will be played with for the rest of their…..natural lives (?). Of course, Woody is having none of this and, convinced they all are Andy’s now and forever, leaves to try and get back to Andy’s house. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter we see that Sunnyside quickly devolves into a living nightmare for the rest of the group. This is because it is soon revealed that Sunnyside is actually lorded over by a gang of just plain evil toys with their leader being a downright merciless pink teddy bear named Lotso who really have no care in the world as to what happens to our favorite gang of toys. A fact they soon verify courtesy of taking them all prison, making them be in the pre-kindergarten area where the kids just treat toys like trash, and just making life generally miserable for them all. Suffice it to say can Woody manage to get back into Sunnyside, save his friends, and get them all back home before Andy departs for college?

Now right off the bat I am just going to say that, in the eyes of this reviewer, Toy Story 3 is easily one of the best films of its respective decade. Point blank. Yes a lot has been said about this film’s darker and more emotionally draining narrative, and I appreciate that, but it should also be said that the third entry in this franchise isn’t scarier or even more hard to watch emotionally than some of the films I grew up watching like Watership Down, Brave Little Toaster, or especially The Secret of NIMH. With that said though, there are some genuinely potent moments in this that most definitely left me bawling my eyes out. I mean I was genuinely surprised at the torrent of pathos I found myself feeling whilst witnessing Jessie’s terror as her present starts to resemble her past, Andy’s mom as she grapples with the fact that her son is growing up and about to leave for college, a little girl named Bonnie giving a loving hug to a toy that needed it most, and even a scene I won’t spoil here, but which involves all the toys. Suffice it to say that every single one of these moments, amongst others, really did force me to think long and hard about the potency of loss, the power of friendship, and the frailty of one’s mortality. Oh and the end of this film? Indeed I guess I should tell you now dear reader: the last twenty or so minutes in this movie are as heart wrenching yet also downright poignant as the beginning of Up if not even more so. Just forewarning you now so you’re completely prepared to start sobbing when it comes into play. Yet despite the presence of some pretty heavy material in this, I should also point out now I’ve got your tear ducts on red alert that this whole film is not 100% doom and gloom. In fact I will admit I did actually laugh quite a bit as I managed to spend time with some of my favorite cinematic toys again. Thankfully, we also see that this film’s creative team also know that people aren’t going into this to see the same old things we’ve seen before. As a result, this film doesn’t really use any gags from the first two you may have liked. Oh sure there are moments where familiar turf is traversed, but the way they are traversed is both novel and quite refreshing. We also see that, much as the characters have gotten older, the thematic concepts at work have aged with them. Never so much that a child just getting started with this series can’t enjoy the film as much as the now-older, but no less wiser kids of my generation mind you, but also containing just enough material to give the older movie goers some things to contemplate on after the movie is over.

Of course it should also be said that at this point that the returning cast of players in this all manage to do absolutely phenomenal jobs in this. I mean I know a solid decade had come and gone between Toy Story 2 and this one, but with how much heart and soul every single returning performer from Tom Hanks and Tim Allen all the way to Don Rickles and even R. Lee Ermey puts into their respective character in this you’d swear that instead of over ten years it was only ten days. This then brings us to some of the new toys and they all manage to be brilliant inclusions to a franchise that since day one has been chock-full of some of the most wonderful animated characters ever. Indeed this starts with Lotso who, as brilliantly played by the late yet great character actor Ned Beatty, is not only the most fleshed out antagonist in a Toy Story film ever, but also one of the most terrifying as well. A feat that is made possibly courtesy of Beatty deploying that wonderfully soothing Southern twang of his to make everything that comes out of Lotso’s mouth have just the right touch of believable hostility. The second stand out amongst the Sunnyside Gang however would have to be Lotso’s quasi-sorta 2nd-in-command Ken (yes as in the Ken from the world of Barbie) who is brilliantly brought to life by one of my favorite actors Michael Keaton. Indeed the character of Ken is not only one that has a genuine arc in this, but is also one of the most hilarious breakdowns of an iconic character ever done by an animated film. Suffice it to say that Keaton takes what could have just been this slimy and arrogant egotist and instead makes him this hilariously over the top smarmy fashionista in a way that I feel only an actor of Keaton’s caliber could have pulled off.  We also see that there is a new child on the block named Bonnie who, alongside her group of toys, are absolute delights as well with particular kudos going to Timothy Dalton who, as a Shakespearean thespian hedgehog called *sigh* Mr. Pricklepants (a name I wish they had changed incidentally for reasons I should not have to explain) is a genuine treasure and of course the young voice actress behind Bonnie brings such genuine joy and youthful enthusiasm to her performance that it is easy to see why things wind up going the way they did with this franchise. Suffice it to say that as it is, this slice of cinema does a wonderful job of not only making sure every character in the film has a reason for being in the story, but also at being a fully fleshed out character in the process regardless of the degree of screen time they acquire.

All in all you know by this point in time you would imagine that we as a species would have the concept of love fairly well figured out if not be able to make more sense of it than we do. Heck the greatest playwright of all time William Shakespeare seemed to have this emotion, in nearly every single aspect of it, understood and that was over five centuries ago. Indeed it was through him, and our own understanding, that love can be based in romance, lust, and even the most incredible feeling you will ever feel in your life. Love can be how you feel when you look in someone’s eyes and see not another person, but instead the whole world. Love can be understanding and shielding much in the way that the bond between a parent and their kid can be. Love can also be the heartfelt, steadfast, and decent kind that can exist between long-time friends. Suffice it to say that after all of these years, you would think the human heart would be incapable of providing us with any more in the way of astonishing new revelations. With that said however, I definitely am now convinced that with this film, the animation powerhouse Pixar might have just pulled off the incredible and done just that. That’s because yes there is powerful work done on both sides of the camera, but most importantly a tale that has gone through time as organically as the people who started out as kids with the release of the first one and literally grew up with these is now brought to a conclusion that doesn’t involve an inspiring speech or a final fight by any means. Instead, it actually manages to showcase what could very well be a novel take on the concept of love. A love that not only wraps up what was, before Toy Story 4, one of the most emotional trilogies ever made, but that proceeds to gift it with a final bow. A bow incidentally that is personified by this new and downright heart-wrenching feeling that is now making its way out of my eyes in the form of tears. Indeed, can people love a toy on the level that Andy did Woody and the gang, but more importantly does that kind of love even matter in the grand scheme of things? Honestly I will be the first to say that I am definitely of the mindset that yes it most assuredly does. I say this because to me the toy is not the thing we love, but rather it is what that toy is a representation of. A representation that we see at the very beginning of this film which places us firmly inside Andy’s creative imagination. Yet although we know this is set in Andy’s mind, the power and beauty from this scene comes from what we are getting to see from Andy’s perspective courtesy of Woody and the gang. Indeed I know that if there is one thing that the Toy Story films, and Pixar’s filmography in general, are constantly a love letter to it’s the power of imagination. Yet with this film we see that this love is still apparent, but there is another love that’s even stronger present. That being that at the end of the day Toy Story 3 is more than just movie magic at its absolute finest. Rather, it’s a slice of cinema that passionately declares a love for life, the memories we make along the way, the heartwarming and truly magical times that occur throughout, and the fact that no matter what happens those moments will always hold a powerful place in our hearts to infinity and beyond. On a scale of 1-5 I give Toy Story 3 a solid 4.5 out of 5.