I will be perfectly honest that this was one of the hardest movies to evaluate as a critic properly. As I have stated in the past, I have a deep-rooted love for the Toy Story franchise since I was 6 years old. 15 years later, I still find myself watching the movies and feeling a mix of nostalgia and amazing eye for my constant growing recognition to detail. The underlying messages and layers, complexities in emotions... all of them were always there, but the less naive you are, the more likely you are to see it.
It's so hard to see this movie because it's been 11 years since I saw the last one at the tender age of 10. A lot has changed with me as well as the Pixar company. Seven movies later, the company is still kicking ass with classics like The Incredibles, Up, and Ratatouille. In fact, with WALL-E, they branched out and attempted to explore subtlety and by doing so unlocked their next goal: emotional pieces, which have made the first ten minutes of Up the most talked about piece of animation in years.
I can't say that I have loved every single Pixar movie, but Toy Story was always the one I held above everyone else. I am having trouble defining whether it's because I have it strongly rooted inside me or if it actually is that good. Many can say Up and the Incredibles have better storylines, but I always come back for the toys.
My final worry was since I love these toys to death, would the following 100 minutes really make me reevaluate how I looked at the others? Don't think it doesn't happen. Remember the Matrix movies? The Godfather III? I was partially worried that, as most trilogies, would just be a terribly flawed wrap-up movie (especially after 11 years). The other part was worried that regardless of quality, what if something drastic happens to alter my view on these characters forever? Maybe I had just grown bored of these characters (unlikely, but you never know).
And still, there's the annoying factor of putting all of this aside and accepting it as a movie on it's own merit. True, it's a sequel and it's part of the company we trust called Pixar, but the issue with most sequels is that they don't stand out. Hell, even Shrek: The Final Chapter doesn't feel to be a special closer to the franchise.
So, $12 later, I finally manned up and faced one of my biggest fears: Toy Story 3.The truth is, the movie is excellent. It continues to make me wonder how Pixar has afforded such brilliant staffs for now 11 movies.
The movie opens on familiar ground for those die hard fans, with an updated version of the original Toy Story opening, which sadly is also the last time we will be seeing the Monkeys in a Barrel (shock one of many to come). It cuts to a young Andy, playing with those good old toys sometime when he was really young. It's still an endearing sight and by the time the opening credits start with a montage, Pixar has managed to improve upon Up and really just make you get all teary eyed.
Cue the present day. Andy is now 17 and going off to college. It's sadly revealed that most toys (including Wheezy, which feels happenstance on so many levels) have been sold at yard sales and it's down to a select few. Some decide to just pack up and leave and the others optimistically think they'll be around for Andy, despite being mistaken for garbage by his mother.
It continues to get more twisted than a children's movie used to as the gang turns on Woody (Tom Hanks), who is still convinced Andy wants him. Somehow, they all end up at Sunnyside, a daycare center for the infantile monsters. From there, it turns into an epic prison where Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) turns against his old friends and Lotso (Ned Beatty) is the kingpin, running the game with Big Baby and an androgynous Ken doll (Michael Keaton).
Somehow, Pixar has managed to once again create layers to an average children's movie that will make you laugh, cry, and depending on your age, scream. The metaphorical prison is indeed an inspired gag and the epic finale is definitely a fitting end to a franchise that has brought us so much joy in exploring human emotions and making us realize their power.
The movie isn't perfection, but who cares? There's a Spanish-talking lothario Buzz Lightyear, a well made romance between Barbie and Ken, and the whole prison escape concept feels like references to The Godfather and the work of Martin Scorsese, without the Travis Bickle shoot-out.
It plays so much to the fact that it's animated toys by getting away with other violent, dark acts that would qualify live action a PG-13 rating. It can be frightening, terrifying, but mostly because it almost seems too human for inanimate objects. While some themes are recurring (abandonment notably), Pixar keeps it fresh, though without a signature Randy Newman-written number to impact emotion.
The movie is overall excellent and fun entertainment. Just because you'll cry doesn't mean it's all bad. There's plenty of pure optimistic fun and creativity in this that keep it from becoming too endearing or preachy. Also, there are enough layers of philosophical meaning to keep you coming back for more years from now when you finally can get it.
Is it the best?
The more you think about it, the harder it is to call it that. Toy Story had all the elements to make it so damn complex that it's almost hard to top. Everything since has been up there, but nothing beats the first glance into the world. However, the more attached you are to the films, the more likely you are to love this one, which I probably will over the course of time.
This movie's only issue with me is that it's the new kid and like Toy Story, I have to accept it as it's own before I can really enjoy it. Somehow, it may come to me sooner, later, but until then, I will say that I give Pixar a congratulations on creating the first solid animated trilogy (sorry, Shrek) of all time. I just hope that with Cars 2 and Monster's Inc. 2, we are not turning everything into a trilogy, for as of right now, that's what is making Toy Story 3 so special in a way that will probably not be topped in my lifetime.