Toy Story 3 (2010)

NSIzU What many are assuming is the final installment in the “Toy Story” franchise (until Disney assigns these characters to a new child protagonist) is an otherwise classy and entertaining finisher to what has been a three part exploration in to childhood and the doldrums of growing up and getting rid of the past. While the child audience has taken great joy in the adventures of Buzz Lightyear and Woody for the last ten years, like every other Pixar production it’s about much more than what’s on the surface. “Toy Story 3” much like its predecessors is about recalling a more innocent time and the relics of our past having to face that they’re just not needed anymore.

What with their owner Andy on the way to college, the entire toy box in Andy’s room has to get together and keep their bonds tightened in the face of their fading importance in his life, and avoid the inevitability that something will happen where they’ll all have to separate for good whether if its with a new owner or… being shredded in a dumpster. Even with the classic “Toy Story” comedy and whimsy there’s an undertone of sadness present throughout the story as you can sense the characters’ desperation to look for a way to remain relevant in the new world where Andy’s new toys are a cell phone and his car. In one sad instance the toys prank call Andy just so he has an excuse to dig in to his toy box and hold them, if even for a second. Never prone to stick to one dimension of their concept, Pixar explores another realm of childhood: daycare.

In the center of the story we have two basic premises. Buzz and his pals experience the full on torment and carnage of children who are most zealous in their playtime with the new toys, while Woody is hold up with new character Bonnie among her small group of teddy bears trying to get back to Andy after an unfortunate mix-up. While I feared the array of new characters would clutter up the entire narrative originally, thankfully all of the new characters are handled very well with vivid characterization in spite of their limited and shared screen time. The introduction of Ken (Michael Keaton in a very sharp performance), Lotso (Ned Beatty) and various others (Totoro!) are hilarious and they are given key roles in the full circle plot (Totoro!) that soon becomes everyone’s mission to go back where they belong as their time runs out with Andy preparing to leave home.

Ultimately while alliances are formed with minor characters (ahem–Totoro!) and antagonists are unveiled, the whole point of the story is that these toys are struggling to stay wanted and desired in their children’s lives and will do whatever it takes to preserve their importance. The animation is as incredible as always with some of the characters given their own idiosyncrasies that stick true to their forms. The Lotso teddy is always smooth and fluid while Ken is stiff and given limited mobility. In spite of these characters motives, the writers never focus on black and white but ask us instead to understand their intentions by revealing their similar back stories that involve love that was showered upon them and taken away with the passing of time and aging loved ones. Like all of the “Toy Story” acts, the central cause for tragedy and happiness is love and how these toy may thrive on it and may actually be alive because of it.

The ultimate question lingers: If the love ceases to exist for them, do they die? Or do they stop existing? Do they know something the audience doesn’t? And will they end up in heaven (with Andy), hell (in the dumpster), or purgatory (the attic)? While the third film is definitely a winner in terms of story and a final offering of Andy’s beloved friends, “Toy Story” is not all that original and this third entry makes it apparent. With shades of “Winnie the Pooh,” the folks at Pixar have also narrowly avoided the fact that their trilogy is a more advanced version of “The Brave Little Toaster.” They seem to come face to face with that evident comparison by turning the second half of the story in to a full on remake as these artifacts must fight for their position in their previous owners life as he grows up and moves on.

There’s even a scene involving a dumpster and a dreaded giant magnet. While many will dispute this glaring similarity, it’s a shame we couldn’t have closed out on a more innovative and unique note instead of a simple harrowing escape climax. Sadly my favorite character Buzz isn’t given much to do here as Tim Allen is noticeably sparse on dialogue here only providing bits and pieces of speeches every so often and is taken out of his role mid-way when a convenient twist allows for another actor to take on his character for an entire twenty or so minutes. Buzz has always been the second half of the core team to “Toy Story” and he doesn’t have as much significance here. That greater portion is handed to Woody and Jesse who practically replaces Buzz for a better half of the entire story especially when the tension keeps the toys fighting their way out of the daycare center.

It’s a shame for the assumed final leg of the trilogy, Buzz isn’t given more to do or more of a spotlight. Like the former films in the series, “Toy Story 3” basically becomes another version of “The Great Escape” as the toys must escape the daycare center and the rival toys to get back to Andy and the writers make great use of this time to add little quirks to the new characters, make use out of the classic cast with a twist as Lotso and his thugs find a way to turn Buzz in to the new enemy when he discovers their master plot for the newcomers in the center. The final act in the life of Buzz, Woody and pals becomes increasingly dramatic and in the end Andy becomes a symbol for the heart of the tale: his mother, who must also face that she is losing her son as he grows up, and must realize that she’ll play a secondary role in his development as he heads off to face a new chapter in his life.

If this is the final chapter of the toys from Pixar, then I couldn’t have imagined a better send off. If you can keep it together in the final scenes where Andy must face that it’s time to move on with his life, then you’re made of stone. Pixar just continues topping themselves. While I would have loved to see a lot more of Buzz and hear a lot more from Tim Allen, “Toy Story 3” is yet another Pixar gem that hides its themes of love, loss, and heartbreak under coating of vivid characters, top notch acting, brilliant production qualities, and incredible animation. In spite of this being just a redux of “The Brave Little Toaster,” this is one in only a hand full of excellent movies of 2010, and I loved it to pieces just the same.