I grew up on computer animation. Dad would go out and buy or rent any compilation he could find of the stuff and we’d watch it as soon as we brought it home. This was long before movies were almost completely fabricated with it, back when CGI was used for experimental proof-of-concept stuff. So it’s no surprise that at age 11, I was super excited to see Toy Story – my brother and I quoting every line from the trailers as we waited – and it was one of the greatest films I’d ever seen. When Toy Story 2 released an eternity later (four years, anyway), it was far more epic and incredible than the original. Strangely, I had intended to see the third film on opening day, but… I just never did. And when it released on optical media, I just never picked it up ($29.99 for the Blu-ray edition is extortion). So when I found it on Netflix Instant at 2AM, I decided to settle down and finally see it. So are my impressions of the film based on a self-fulfilling prophecy? Read on…
Like its predecessors, Toy Story 3 opens with a fantasy sequence with the toys in their prime, brought to life by Andy’s imagination. When it ends, we skip to years later as the toys try to get the attention of their Andy, only now he’s college-bound. When the attempt fails, sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) calls a meeting of the remaining toys, but instead of a roaring sea of playthings that we saw in the first films, the dozen or so that remain announce they’ve already assembled. All of them are tired and ready to be thrown in the trash or stuffed in the attic. A series of mishaps sends them in a donation box to the Sunnyvale daycare where a kindly teddy bear, Lots-O-Hugs (Ned Beatty), introduces them to a new world where they will be played with forever by never-ceasing waves of children. Of course as soon as the children arrive, they’re tossed around and abused. They want out.
It’s easy to see from the get-go that the film is a bit of a downer, feeling like the end of a journey. Even the once majestic and stiff space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) has succumbed to the party’s shared fatalism. I won’t spoil anything but the climax, set in a gorgeously-rendered junkyard (no doubt inspired by lessons from Wall-E) nails the point that they’re at the end of their artificial lives. Being that it is a sort of celebration of the lives of these toys, the film spends a bit too much time referencing its predecessors, making the whole affair feel a bit like fan service to apologize for the wait time. A daycare feels like an easy setting for the cast compared to the eccentric collector who kidnaps Woody in the second film, where he realizes that he was part of a series of toys based on a 1950s kids’ show. It’s the sum of these things that seem to prevent the film from developing a heart. As scary as the climax is, it didn’t reduce me to tears like Jesse’s song of rejection (via Sarah MacLachlan) did in the previous film.
The film isn’t bad by any means, but it feels like missed potential, like the insanely talented staff at Pixar were simply going through the motions. Introducing Ken (voiced by the ever-awesome Michael Keaton) as a partner for Barbie is brilliantly played as his lingering sexuality is called into question at every possible opportunity. As a stand-alone film, it’d probably rate higher, but it still relies too much on its predecessors. Not that my opinion matters, the film wound up being the first animated film to gross a billion dollars worldwide, but having such an attachment to the series, I was looking for so much more.