Review: Toy Story 3
There are movie studios…and then there’s Pixar. Paramount is a movie studio. Universal is a movie studio. Pixar, however, is a creative powerhouse the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the heyday of Disney. They are not simply a manufacturer of entertainment; they are indeed the greatest and most consistent collection of storytellers on the face of the earth. They lift our eyes to the skies and fill our dreams in a way that affects every single age group with equal impact. These are not children’s stories. They are human stories, viewed through the wondrous prism of the childhood mind. Enjoy these guys while they’re around. Sooner or later, it has to be believed, Pixar will make a bad movie. Hell, before that they’d have to make one that is a step below great.
But that time hasn’t come yet.
With Toy Story 3, the greatest of that particular series and the best film to be released so far this year, they have returned to the artisitic heights they achieved with masterpieces like Finding Nemo and Wall-E. They’ve created not only that incredibly rare good second sequel, but they’ve crafted as affecting an ode to the beauty of the generational continuum as I’ve ever seen. With Andy leaving his toys and packing up for college, this may seem like a story about the end of childhood, about closing the door and striving to a find in a place in a world that no longer needs you. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s about how childhood is never lost, only passed on. We impart our wonder and our dreams to those who come after us, and they in term keep our eyes filled with light and our hearts tethered to that purity of feeling that life and all its struggles try so hard to steal from us.
Pixar, yet again, has created magic.
The story sees our collection of toy heroes at a serious crossroads. Andy is packing them up as he leaves for college, and they’re stuck wondering about what the future will hold for them now that their owner and friend is moving on. Will he leave them to gather dust in the attic? Will he take some of the them with him? Or will he let his mom donate them to the local daycare? As you probably know, they end up at the daycare, missing the old days yet excited about what seems to be a splendid existence with new children to play with them.
But the daycare is not as splendid as it seems. Some of the toys there, led by the deceptive and bitter Lotso the hugging bear and a hilariously sketchy Ken doll, have created a cruel system of self-perservation where the new toys are fed to the grinder of the reckless toddler room, with very young kids who rip toys to shreds and show no ability to properly play with guys like Buzz and Woody and the gang. So now the story becomes a prison-break saga that rivals the likes of The Great Escape and the Shawshank Redemption.
But that’s just the surface of the story, thrilling as it is (and it is endlessly exciting). What we really have here is a tale of seemingly abandoned souls wandering the existential abyss as they seek to escape the darkness while wondering if there’s a still a place in the light for them at all. There’s a terrific and rather frigthening sequence near the end where our toy friends are literally facing their own demise. This is not done is the usual cartoony way, with overly dramatic music and a clear knowledge that rescue is just around the corner. No, our heroes really do not think they’re going to make it, and instead of panicking, they gaze at their fate, accept it, and hold each other’s hands as it looms. It’s a startlingly bleak sequence that few children’s films would dare to tackle. In my theater, children of all ages sat silent as this took place, they themselves entirely unsure of whether or not their heroes would make it out. The power that Pixar weilds over an audience is always palpable.
But Pixar, as everyone knows by now, specialized in the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re not afraid to explore the dark, but they do so always with a hopeful eye toward the realization of dreams. And after they plunge our heroes into the abyss (which is so stirring thanks to how truly loveable they’ve made these characters), they resolve their tale in the greatest way possible. The ending is entirely unexpected , but it’s a gorgeous display of how the beauty of childhood is inherited by proceeding generations. Our greatest gift to our children is that greatest gift to us as a species; our sense of wonder. Our sense that anything is possible and that the stories and magic we create are the most valuable commodities we have.
The story of the toys with Andy may be over, but the story of these toys as characters is merely entering another chapter. Youth comes and goes, but the excitement and imagination that Pixar has so captured in these characters…that is forever. Andy realizes, as we all must, that our duty is to keep passing that torch. The way may be bumpy and dark at times, as it is for Buzz and Woody and our other plastic friends, but on the other side is that continued sense of wonder and shared love, the very essence of what makes like worth living.
When it comes to that, Pixar keeps us going….again and again and again.