by Mel Valentin
As another lackluster summer crammed with sequels, remakes, and reboots continued, it seemed unlikely that Pixar Animation Studios’ third entry in the "Toy Story" franchise, contrary to Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter’s policy against sequels, would save the summer, but that’s exactly what "Toy Story 3" accomplishes. Under director Lee Unkrich, whose previous credits list him as co-director on "Finding Nemo," "Monsters, Inc.," and "Toy Story 2,' "Toy Story 3" is the rarest of sequels, especially a sequel released 11 years after the last entry, a film that that simultaneously takes the characters through a new story in a new setting, while giving the franchise (and us) emotional closure.Toy Story 3 opens in the past, presumably at the conclusion of Toy Story 2 with Andy (voiced by John Morris once again) the benevolent owner of the self-aware toys we grew to love over two films, creating an imaginative story of his own, complete with a train crossing a bridge, death-defying escapes involving Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack). Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), and Rex (Wallace Shawn). Toy Story 3 flips through Andy’s preteen and teen years via a home video montage. Now eighteen and college bound, Andy has little time or interest in his toys, keeping them in a trunk in his bedroom, and otherwise ignoring their efforts to regain his attention.
"A fitting conclusion to Pixar's signature franchise."
Due to Andy's disinterest, the toy's future looks bleak: (1) stuffed into a trash bag and stored in the attic, (2) thrown away as trash, or (3) sold in a yard sale or given away. Andy’s mother wants,to donate the toys to the Sunnyside Daycare Center. Andy, however, still feels some attachment to his toys, but decides to take only Woody with him to college. The other toys, including a dejected Buzz, are set side for attic storage. Andy’s younger sister, Molly (Beatrice Miller), eagerly throws her Barbie (Jodi Benson) into the box set aside for the daycare center. Through a series of chance occurrences, Woody, Buzz, and the other toys end up in the box headed for Sunnyside.
Moments after arriving at the center, Woody begins to plan his escape and return to Andy, but the other toys, including Buzz, want to give Sunnyside a chance, especially after meeting the elderly leader of the Sunnyside toys, Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty), and his second-in-command, Ken (Michael Keaton), Barbie’s longtime accessory, a chance. Lotso entices the toys with a description of life in Sunnyside: an inexhaustible supply of children who want to play with toys. He leads them to their new home, the “caterpillar room,” but they quickly learn that Sunnyside isn’t heaven but purgatory. They’re expected to pay their dues (i.e., abuse by young children) before they can move up to the “butterfly room” where older children will treat them carefully Lotso enforces this rule with the help of the creepy, one-eyed Big Baby, his bodyguard.
The words "nirvana," “heaven,” and “purgatory” wasn’t accidental. Religious symbols and themes run through Toy Story 3, usually unobtrusively, as does the metaphor of the toys as retirees shipped off to a nursing home by their children. Despite a prison camp-like atmosphere, nighttime guards, a wall, and the "box" (cf., Cool Hand Luke), the toys decide to escape. Still idealizing Andy as the perfect owner, Woody makes a run for it. He's ultimately found by a little girl, Bonnie (Emily Hahn), and brought home with her (in a too-short interlude). When Woody learns the truth about the daycare center, he decides to return for his friends and help them escape (cf., The Great Escape).
When, moments later, the toys are facing a dark fate, they reach out to each in silence, Unkrich expresses visually what we’ve known all along about the Toy Story films: separately and collectively, they’re ultimately about friendship, compassion, understanding, and mutual respect, about friends as family, and family as friends. Certainly, that’s an idealized, even unrealistic, but it says something both about Pixar and about us as moviegoers that we respond to the message on a profoundly emotional level.And with Unkrich and Pixar bringing "Toy Story" up-to-date technologically, primarily for the backgrounds, textures, and the set pieces, "Toy Story 3" is a fitting conclusion to the franchise. A week ago, "Toy Story 3" seemed like an unnecessary sequel, a cash grab through another film and merchandising to take advantage of a beloved franchise. That may be true, but it also doesn’t matter. "Toy Story 3" will take its place as another success for Pixar, both commercially and artistically.
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originally posted: 06/18/10 11:00:00