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Toy Story 3

Dir: Lee Unkrich

Rating: 5.0/5.0

Pixar/Walt Disney Studios

103 Minutes

It’s been 15 years since the release of Toy Story. Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Andy’s toys have become indelible parts of our movie-going culture, much like Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Snow White. Ever since that big hit in 1995, Pixar has put out one quality film after another, including most recent masterpieces WALL-E and Up. But while those two films introduced new worlds and characters, the creators of Toy Story 3 faced the immense challenge of not only living up to the quality of the previous two installments in the series, but not desecrating those beloved characters by delivering a limp third part to the trilogy.

I am happy to report that Toy Story 3 is not only one of Pixar’s best films, but perhaps the best of the Toy Story trilogy. Returning to the familiar themes, mainly the feelings of insecurity and obsolesce that come with the passage of time, Toy Story 3 picks up years after the second part. Andy is now ready to head off to college and Woody and friends are déclassé, relegated to a toy chest. But when a horrible mistake almost sends the gang off to the garbage dump, Buzz Lightyear makes a decision that re-routes the toys to a daycare center with the hope that someone will play with them. Unfortunately, a mafia of toys already rules this daycare and a plush teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) and a Ken doll (Michael Keaton) conspire to banish Andy’s toys to the infant classroom, a fate worse than death. Naturally, it is up to Woody to save them.

Even though Toy Story 3 hews to a similar format of the previous installment, that doesn’t mean it lacks thrills, laughs, excitement and peril. Essentially a prison break film, Toy Story 3 also makes knowing references to film noir, Westerns and numerous other filmic tropes. Pixar has always made movies that can be appreciated on many levels, and this one is no exception.

But the biggest magic trick of all is not only allowing us to believe in a clutch of plastic toys that can talk and feel, but to have us feel along with them. While the previous installments featured competition between Woody and Buzz to be Andy’s most favored toy, now all the toys must fight not only for relevance, but a dignified next step in their existence as Andy clearly has outgrown their use. Good toys go bad after being abandoned and replaced by owners. Escaping from the daycare may be the solution to one problem, but where will Woody and friends go after they’ve achieved that freedom?

Toy Story 3
could have been a maudlin affair, filled with teary sentimentality as the toys say goodbye to Andy. Yes, there are moments that had me choked up, but the dazzling, frenetic energy of the first two segments returns with equal frenzy as breath-stopping set piece follows breath-stopping set piece.

Pixar films also teach valuable lessons and an undercurrent of Buddhism lurks under Toy Story 3’s shimmering surface. It is okay to say goodbye, to break free not only of material possessions, but of relationships that are ready to end. For example, Lotso’s heart has been corrupted because he is unable to let go of the loss of his owner. Andy’s toys must also learn the same lesson or face a similar fate. While nothing is permanent, there is one small thing that belies such an idea. The creators of Toy Story have made three near perfect films that, like Andy’s toys, exist not only to enjoy now, but to pass on and give joy to the next generation. And the one after that.

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