Toy Story 3

05 August 2010

If 1999's Toy Story 2 presented to Pixar the novelty of creating its first sequel, and an opportunity to both extend a world and expand upon characters already familiar to us, its follow-up brings to a fitting close the narrative cycle first begun in 1995.

Each of the Toy Story films have dealt with an established order, of sorts, which is abruptly upset or invaded. The first film saw Woody, a toy cowboy, having to deal with and overcome personal jealousy of new addition and possible favourite, spaceman Buzz Lightyear; the second film, fresh from the resolution of the first, has Buzz and the rest of the gang embark upon the dangerous mission to rescue their cowboy leader from an opportunistic collector; now, the third instalment's central narrative premise is altogether more grave: the toys, excluding Woody, are to be abandoned by their owner Andy, who has now outgrown them and is about to leave home for college.

The dilemma is immediately existential, and perhaps marks Toy Story 3 as Pixar's most overtly adult film yet. Here we have a gang of characters requiring no introduction, whose history and evolution are already known to us, and the entire concept of their newest adventure is openly traumatic: the long-deferred reality of rejection – not only rejection, but an entire loss of purpose.

If mortality is writ large here, though, it's in quotation marks. As in Pixar's other statement of enviro-happy conscientiousness WALL·E (2008), there's a strong case for preservation and recycling here. Just as the first film had Andy accept both his new hi-tech astronaut and his dustier ranchman, here the toys' initial dismay at being deemed outmoded is replaced by joyous anticipation that they are to be donated to a local daycare centre where they will be played with again – for the first time in years.

From here, the plot splits in two. Woody, Andy's sole selection for the trip to college, finds himself wrongly placed in the donation box with the rest of the gang and vows to make the trip back to his lifelong residence at all costs; the others, meanwhile, are happy to have found themselves in a daycare that looks infinitely more promising than the horror stories suggested.

That early promise is quickly thwarted. There's a delightful moment when Buzz notices all too late that the toys' collective excitement is in deep contrast to the other daycare veterans, who are hiding themselves away on, beneath and behind shelves, as a bell rings and riotous children re-enter the play-den to attack anything in sight. As a staccato of ghastly discord sounds relentless alarm, there's a dark, sinister edge to this humour that is magnified by Woody's naivety unfolding elsewhere.

There is an obvious self-reflexivity at the centre of the film. Absolutely distraught by the violence they've had to endure on their first day at daycare, Buzz and the gang insist these children are “too young” to know how to respect toys of their ilk. It's a statement that quite easily applies to the film itself, the third in what is now a 15-year old trilogy. Indeed, if the second Toy Story film came soon enough after its predecessor for fans to be young enough to remember the original and enjoy the sequel in equal measure, the third is some eleven years in the making, so to speak.

In this respect, the film has allowed the Pixar collective to return to their roots if only to mark, perhaps, a more open and accessible confirmation of what many already knew after the brave and subtle excellence of Ratatouille (2007), WALL·E and Up (2009): these are children's films for advertisement purposes only; in all others, there's a sincere artistic seriousness at work.

Similarly, perhaps because of our familiarity with this world and its characters (whereas the same strengths in more novel pieces may get overlooked), Toy Story 3 demonstrates why Pixar are at present the leading storytellers in mainstream animation bar none. Not only does the film show the usual fine attention to visual nuance – note the marks of dirt on seasoned daycare vet Lotso – there's a careful and thorough approach to set-piece invention.

What should be a fairly obvious part of the film-making process, such as how a shot is framed or when a scene should be cut, seems to be made effortlessly simple by Pixar to the point at which you realise just where a lot of the competition goes wrong. The rhythm and relative brevity with which the toys execute their escape from daycare, for instance, is a delight to watch. Or note the self-damning observations of the toy soldiers who unquestionably accept their early fate as the "first ones to go" whenever an ominous trash bag appears. Or the simple but seemingly inherent hilarity of juxtaposing glum clown Mr. Chuckles with a happier memory of himself.
Or the quiet satisfaction of Mrs. Potato Head finally being re-acquainted with her lost eye. All three Toy Story films show a relish in such amusing detail and character investment.

Dir: Lee Unkrich | Year: 2010 | Country: USA
With: the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger