Could Toy Story be the greatest trilogy of all time?
I often cite Toy Story 2 as an example of that rare sequel that is as good, maybe better, than the original. And now, improbably—because after 10 years, the magic had to be gone, right?—Toy Story 3 is its every bit as good as the first two.
Thing is, I figured there was no story left to tell about the anthropomorphized toys who watch helplessly as their children grow up and leave them behind. Hadn’t I laughed (and cried) enough at the affectionate squabbling of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), the doom and gloom fatalism of Hamm the pig (John Ratzenberger), the alpha male bravado of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the fretting of dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), the yearning to be loved of Jessie the rag doll (Joan Cusack), and the folksy leadership of Woody (Tom Hanks)?
But I was obviously underestimating the material’s staying power: The toys represent our childhood, of course, and our attachment to the things that we leave behind, but they’re also great characters—ripe for fresh takes and new adventures. Plus, every time a new toy is introduced it’s another chance to exploit the filmmakers’ seemingly endless capacity for inventive humor and nostalgia.
Oh, Pixar, how did I ever doubt thee?
Toy Story 3 is set up, hilariously, as a prison escape film. Little Andy is now leaving for college and, in a mix-up, his toys end up being donated to the Sunnyside Day Care Center. (He meant to store them in the attic.) Woody is horrified by this development—but the rest of the toys think Sunnyside might be okay. After all, to be played with again, isn’t that all a toy could hope for? And things seem almost too good to be true when they first arrive. There’s a kindly teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) who runs the place, tons of children, and even an unctuous Ken doll (Michael Keaton) for Barbie (Jodi Benson).
But when the new toys get placed in the toddler room—not to be played with, but to be trampled, gouged, and drooled over—it becomes clear that Sunnyside is not quite the utopia it first seemed.
In fact, Lotso is not a huggable charmer, but a wretched creature who was scarred by an abandonment incident in his past. As for his giant, children-of-the-damned babydoll sidekick? Terrifying—and funny as heck.
There’s all sorts of genius bits in Toy Story 3: Mr. Potatohead taking temporary ownership of a tortilla when his potato goes missing; a once-happy clown that has gone the way of Shakes; a thespian hedgehog plush toy who follows the Method school; and a misfired wire that turns Buzz into a Latin lover.
Tom Hanks remains the film’s heart. It’s in these films, more than any others, that he stands as the true successor to Jimmy Stewart: possessing a kind of innate masculinity that is quintessentially decent and brave.
Toy Story 3 has some moments—a few run-ins with the trash incinerator; a betrayal by a friend—that might be a little intense for the wee ones. Assure them that all will turn out okay—and take them. Toy Story 3 is a gift to be savored with friends and family of all ages.
You find me a better trilogy.