Really…is there anyone on the face of the earth that doesn’t like the “Toy Story” series? I mentally asked myself that question the other day. Looking for results, I turned to my attention to the most trust-worthy critique tabulator on the internet: Rotten Tomatoes. For the first “Toy Story,” we have 100 percent: complete and utter approval all around the board. For “Toy Story 2,” we have 100 percent: unanimous acclaim. So in summary, the answer to my question is ultimately no. Nobody on the face of the earth dislikes the “Toy Story” series. End of story.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I think it’s time for a little history lesson. In 1995, a little known animation studio called Pixar decided to release a computer-animated film about the bond between child and toy, simply titled “Toy Story.” The film was groundbreaking, as it was the first full-length motion picture ever to be made entirely with computers, paving the way for studios such as Dreamworks to create their own 3D animation. Not only that, but the film gave a much needed jolt to the genre that was the animated film. It provided such a high level of sophistication that did not condescend to children but also appealed to adults just as easily. To this day, it stands as the template for how 3D animation should be done and, in my opinion, is the gold standard of the entire medium.
Almost exactly four years later, “Toy Story 2” was released in theaters. While the first focused more on relating to the youthful side in the viewer, the sequel seemed to be more reliant on comedy with bits of true humanity peppered throughout. As it turned out, audiences dug it just as much as they did the first (in some cases, even preferred it to the original) and propelled it in sales, making it a box-office victory for Pixar. While I am more partial to the original because of its innovation and universal appeal from young to old, I still agree that the sequel did not fall too far off from the tree of entertainment value.
It is nearly eleven years later and audiences worldwide will now receive the threequel “Toy Story 3.” At the beginning of the film, a video montage of Andy’s younger years with his motley collection of toys is shown, while playing Randy Newman’s theme for the franchise, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” Right at the line ‘our friendship will never die,’ the track and montage unexpectedly come to a stop. This obviously introduces the darker, more mature themes found in this film that its predecessors had not yet touched upon.
Many years have passed by and Andy (John Morris, who coincidentally voiced Andy in the other movies too) has now graduated from high school and is soon to be moving on to college. Unfortunately, all of his toys including (but not limited to) Woody the cowboy (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear the space ranger (Tim Allen) have not quite gotten as good of a break. Andy never plays with them anymore now that he has grown older and his interests have expanded. He hardly even gives them a second glance when he finds his cell phone “mysteriously” placed in the toy box where they all lie useless. This world is not quite as jolly and whimsical as we last left off, eh? Even Buster, the energetic puppy from the second, is now a fat, lazy, slobbering beast of a pet that has aged considerably.
Before going off to college, Andy is faced with a tough decision: should he keep his abandoned toys in the attic only to collect dust, give them to a local daycare, or just send them in a garbage bag on the way to the dump? He intends to keep them in the attic, but due to a misunderstanding, Andy’s mother nearly gets them thrown into the garbage truck. This situation causes even more confusion among the toys, who now believe that Andy doesn’t care for them in the slightest anymore. They sneak into the box for toys going to the daycare in hopes of a more meaningful existence.
The daycare, called Sunnyside, exteriorly looks like a forgotten toy’s version of heaven. The children play with the toys every weekday and once those children grow up, a new batch of them arrives the next year. This way, the toys essentially have infinite value. Unfortunately, this everlasting appreciation exclusively applies to the Butterfly room of the daycare. All of Andy’s belongings are dumped into the Caterpillar room, which is the daycare for very, very young children. Remember in the first “Toy Story” where baby Molly caused major trouble to Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) in the opening scenes. Imagine that torture, only twenty times worse and to all of the toys.
While greeted with a warm welcome by the Butterfly room toys, it turns out that they are not what they seem to be either. These toys include the tyrannical leader Lotso (Ned Beatty), a strawberry-scented bear who was replaced by his original owner after getting lost from her, the mindless but subservient Big Baby, and a flamboyant but vicious Ken doll (Michael Keaton). These special toys essentially run the entire daycare, establishing what is basically a caste system. The weaker, less valuable toys are sentenced to put up with torture in the Caterpillar room while the useful, powerful toys have a luxurious playtime in the Butterfly room.
Meanwhile, Woody is still optimistic about his worth in Andy’s eyes. Early on (before the torture begins), he makes a break from Sunnyside. He doesn’t make it too far before he is taken by an imaginative young girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn) who was just leaving the daycare. While having Bonnie as an owner is not too bad at all, he still holds out hope for Andy. With the help of the girl’s other toys, including a theater-acting porcupine named Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), a white unicorn named Buttercup (Jeff Garlin) and a neurotic tyrannosaurus named Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Woody attempts to make his escape and return into Andy’s possession.
Now I already know what the first thing that pops into your head is. You’re thinking that this storyline is needlessly complicated and multilayered. With me explaining it, I can’t really blame you. But as I was watching the movie, I never once questioned the events that were presented. The guys at Pixar, no matter what the subject is, always present their material in such a smooth way that is easy for the movie-going public to digest but interesting enough to satisfy for the entire length of the film. I mean, if I were to explain the synopsis of “Up” to you right now, it would make zero sense until you’ve seen the movie for yourself. I’ve got to hand it to Pixar; they know how to take wacky, intricate plots and make them fit together in a remarkably cohesive manner.
Before I can go on, I’ll also name off the endless supporting cast list that made these characters come to life: we have the upbeat yodeling cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), the non-confrontational pacifist dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), the wisecracking piggybank Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris) who goes around the movie missing one of her eyes, and finally the dog with a slinky body and a southern drawl Slinky (Blake Clark, who replaced the deceased Jim Varney). All of these people give worthy voice performances that deserved to be recognized alongside those of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. There is not a wasted talent to be found.
While the film is not quite as character driven as the other movies in the series, there is still great emotional depth within the characters. There is a theme in the film that all of Andy’s toys function together as a family unit. As long as they have each other, they can overcome or outsmart any obstacles that get in their way. After spending two entire movies getting to know these characters, this bond is made completely believable. Especially toward the end, there are two or three very tender and heartfelt scenes between the entire gang. Those scenes in particular are so enthralling that as a member of the audience, you can feel the mutual love between all of them. You feel their pain. You suffer with their struggles. It almost becomes uncannily human in nature.
Well, well, well. Leave it to the folks at Pixar to not only give the best movie of the summer so far, but my personal favorite movie of the year so far. While not quite a perfect movie, “Toy Story 3” comes awfully close. It provides enough thrills and excitement for the summer movie lover (including an awesomely nostalgic action sequence at the very beginning), enough laugh-out-loud moments to please the comedy lover and enough emotional depth to relate to all walks of life. I cannot think of anyone who I won’t recommend to go see this movie. So go out and see it already! It is one of the best experiences you will have at the movies throughout the summer.