Ten years have passed since Woody, Buzz Lightyear and friends went to “infinity and beyond.” That’s the cute catchphrase that serves as Buzz’s rallying cry, but it could also describe the box office performance of “Toy Story” one and two. These movies are big business, so it was inevitable that “Toy Story 3” would get pulled out of the Pixar toy box eventually. The question is, can it possibly break the curse of the triquel—can you name a good movie with the number 3 in the title?—and live up to the high standard established by the first two films?
The film’s story is rather simple. Andy (voice of John Morris) is ten years older since we last saw him. Preparing for college and a new life without his toys, he’s making the hardest decision he’s ever had to make—what to do with the toys he has shared his life with for so long? Do they go to the garbage, the attic or to a daycare where other kids can play with them? When a misunderstanding threatens to separate the toys, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jesse (Joan Cusack) and the gang take matters into their own tiny hands but when they meet the huggable but evil Lotso (Ned Beatty) the garbage dump or the attic begin to look good.
As bright and shiny as the packaging may be, “Toy Story 3” isn’t a run-of-the-mill kid’s film. Pixar—and the Pixarians who work there—are too clever by half to make a family film like “Furry Vengeance” or “Marmaduke.” What they do is much more subversive. They create stories about real issues with real emotions and tart them up with kid friendly characters. The result is ageless family entertainment that doesn’t talk down to any member of the household.
It’s darker than the previous films—the lumbering Big Baby doll may be the scariest villain yet this year!—but, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and classic Disney before it, “Toy Story 3” understands that kids can handle something a bit more challenging than a talking dog on a surfboard (see “Marmaduke… actually don’t see “Marmaduke, it’s terrible). There’s nothing here that will traumatize the little ones, but mixed in with the action, the jokes and the familiar characters are moments of sadness—when the toys realize that Andy is moving in without them—of threatening behavior—why is Lotso so mean?—and loss of innocence. It’s sophisticated storytelling in a genre that too often doesn’t treat its audience with enough respect.
The voice work is uniformly strong, with all the regulars returning—Hanks, Allen, Cusack along with John Ratzenburger and Don Rickles—and some welcome new additions. Timothy Dalton’s rich baritone gives the theatrically ambitious plush hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants some of the film’s best moments and Michael Keaton’s Ken is very funny. One of the great pleasures of Pixar’s films is their unconventional voice casting. Who would have expected “Deliverance’s” Ned Beatty to turn up in a kid’s flick? Not me, but here he does some beautiful work, seemingly channeling a Tennessee Williams character as the nasty Lotso, the teddy bear who smells like strawberries.
Technically “Toy Story 3” is top notch. The 3D enhances the story, adding some depth to the action scenes, but doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling. Pixar has also been careful to update the look of the film to state of the art technology, while retaining the look of the first two films. But more impressive than the technology, however, is how Pixar is able to weave a story out of pixels and terabytes about toys and other inanimate objects and make us care about them for the ninety minutes we’re in the theatre. That’s the real magic of “Toy Story 3.”