Fifteen years may not be a long enough time for wisdom to set in. But where animated franchises are concerned, just making it that far has to count for a lot. Certainly so with Pixar’s Toy Story series, whose long-lived success has always been characterized by a company-mandated understanding that anthropomorphizing playthings can have deep existential implications.
How Pixaresque. Toy Story 3 stands up to the legacy of the first two films with a strong plotline and loveable new characters, even if CGI isn’t the eye-popping feat it was 15 years ago.
Nowhere is that understanding more apparent than in this third and possibly final installment, in which technical innovations seem inconsequential and 3D seems superfluous, whereas issues of aging, abuse, abandonment and obsolescence are of paramount importance. Of course it comes as no surprise that Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and pals (Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) are up to that challenge.
With toy owner Andy (John Morris) grown up and ready to leave for college, and his mother (Laurie Metcalf) instructing him to clean out his room, the toys face a moment of truth. Separation seems inevitable, and fate offers few appealing options. If not a dusty limbo in the attic, it’s either the torturous perpetual playtime of a daycare center or the gaping inferno of a garbage incinerator.
At first, the gang likes the look of Sunnyside Daycare. “No owners means no heartbreak,” says Lots-o’-Huggin’ (Ned Beatty), the strawberry scented plush bear who runs the place. But Woody can’t forget that Andy’s name is stamped on his foot, and so, reluctantly, he’s out of here. Wisely too, in fact, as it turns out that being trampled by toddlers in the Caterpillar Room is the least of the new Sunnyside residents’ problems. Lots-o’ runs the place, all right: like a prison.
Which means a prison break will be in order, and it unfolds in a sequence that’s as inspired and enthralling as anything Pixar’s ever done. As scripted by Little Miss Sunshine’s Michael Arndt, with Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter and director Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 doesn’t fail to live up to the company’s other essential mandate. It’s a story-driven thrill ride.
Another of the many satisfactions in this movie is that it introduces several new toys without ever treating them like throwaways. These include but are not limited to: Timothy Dalton’s pretentious, lederhosen-clad hedgehog thespian, Mr. Pricklepants; Big Baby, a hilariously creepy, lazy-eyed doll; Chuckles (Bud Luckey), a deeply wounded clown; and the swishy, clothes-obsessed Ken (Michael Keaton).
It’s easy to forgive the hint of patness in its emotional denouement because this franchise has been so careful not to wear out its welcome. Not just wise but well-proportioned too; that’s impressive for a 15-year-old.