I don’t want to oversell this. I waited a couple days after seeing the movie before writing the review, to give myself time to collect my thoughts and present them without hyperbole. If I talk it up too much, your expectations will be impossibly high, and you’ll wind up being disappointed.
So here goes: “Toy Story 3” is the greatest thing in the history of ever.
No, crap, that’s too much. Come on, Snider, there are things in this world that are better than “Toy Story 3.” A mother’s love for her child, for example. That’s hard to beat. And America. We have our problems, but America is overall pretty fantastic. If I had to choose between America existing and “Toy Story 3” existing, I would definitely choose America.
But if I had to choose between “Toy Story 3” existing and every other movie I’ve seen this year existing, I would choose “Toy Story 3.” In attempting to describe it, my skills as a writer fail me — AND I AM A VERY GOOD WRITER!!
The movie is funny, of course, but not just funny: hysterical, witty, clever, visual, verbal, highbrow, and lowbrow, employing slapstick, wordplay, spoof, and homage. It takes the first two movies’ themes of friendship, childhood, and imagination and builds on them, going to greater heights and profounder depths. It’s awe-inspiringly intelligent and complex, yet also light, exhilarating, and effortlessly entertaining. Movies sometimes make me cry, and they sometimes make me laugh till I cry, but I can’t remember the last time the same movie did both.
It’s been 11 years since “Toy Story 2,” and that’s about how much time has passed with our beloved anthropomorphic playthings. The toys’ owner, Andy (voice of John Morris), is about to leave for college. He hasn’t played with Woody, Buzz, and the gang in ages, but they’re still in his room, along with the other remnants of his youth. (Side note: Imagine the horrors those toys have witnessed while dwelling in the bedroom of a teenage boy.) And since he isn’t taking them with him to college, his mom (Laurie Metcalf) wants him to do something with them — put them in the attic, sell them on eBay, throw them out with the trash, anything.
This is what happens when you grow up. Your mom expresses astonishment at how quickly the time has passed, and you have to do something with your old stuff. The problem for the toys, of course, in this improbable yet somehow relatable universe, is that they don’t get older. They don’t outgrow their owners. What becomes of the childhood things when the child is gone?
In this case, instead of being safely stored away in the attic, the toys mistakenly wind up at a daycare center called Sunnyside. The silver lining is that Sunnyside looks like paradise. It’s full of kids who will play with them every day — a key to a toy’s happiness — and who are replaced by new kids when they age out of daycare. The toys will never have to worry about being abandoned again. Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), the strawberry-scented plush teddy who leads the playthings at Sunnyside, explains it thus: “No owner means no heartbreak.”
Oh, but something doesn’t sound right about that. Woody (Tom Hanks), forever loyal to his owner, thinks they need to get back to Andy’s house before he leaves for college. Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, replacing the late Jim Varney), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Rex (Wallace Shawn) think Andy doesn’t want them anymore — and besides, Sunnyside is fantastic. Barbie (Jodi Benson) has extra reason for wanting to stay, having already met a boy doll by the name of Ken (Michael Keaton).
Some elements of the plot are echoes of “Toy Story 2.” Woody is temporarily separated from the group; rescue missions are devised; the perilous climax recalls the dizzying airport sequence from the last film. It doesn’t feel like a retread, though. Quite the opposite — it feels like a culmination of the series’ themes, like the first two films were merely laying the groundwork for this final, epic adventure. If there isn’t a “Toy Story 4,” this will serve as a joyously satisfying conclusion.
The director is Lee Unkrich, his first solo flight after co-directing “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters Inc.,” and “Finding Nemo”; he and Pixar gurus John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton are credited with the story, with the actual screenplay by Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”). Several of the new toy characters will be instant favorites. I already mentioned Ken, whose passion for Barbie is matched only by his passion for clothes; there’s also a Chatter Telephone (Teddy Newton), a clown doll (Bud Luckey), a unicorn (Jeff Garlin), a triceratops (Kristen Schaal), and a hedgehog, Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), who fancies himself something of a thespian. There is also a cymbal-clanging monkey that made me laugh very, very hard.
That a movie about talking toys could be enjoyable is a no-brainer. That a movie about talking toys could address weighty existentialist themes in a poignant fashion, and that audiences could come to love these characters and sympathize with their plights — well, who told Pixar they could do that? To make action scenes that are genuinely thrilling and suspenseful, even though we know everything’s going to turn out OK in the end — who would have thought that was even possible? I see action movies all the time whose flesh-and-blood characters never convince me they’re in any real danger, and here I am wide-eyed with giddy tension over the fate of some toys — and not even actual toys, but cartoon drawings of toys!
How is every emotion, high and low, conveyed so gracefully and organically, without a hint of contrivance? How does a G-rated family film become a sophisticated combination of “The Great Escape” and “Animal Farm” without going over young people’s heads? How does a movie delight 5-year-olds as thoroughly as 35-year-olds? None of these things are possible! And yet here we are!
Pixar has pulled off this kind of feat so regularly that it shouldn’t be a surprise anymore — and yet somehow it still is, every time. That’s part of the magic, part of why I’m certain Pixar is staffed by warlocks and sorcerers who have access to all of humanity’s creative gifts. How else does the third entry in a franchise not just match but in some cases exceed the accomplishments of its predecessors? Part three is where you’re usually just in it for the money, where no one expects much. But while I’m sure the Pixar people enjoy raking in cash as much as anyone, never for a second does “Toy Story 3” feel like it was made specifically for that reason. From start to finish, in every last detail, it feels like a labor of love.
And that’s why it’s the single greatest thing mankind has ever produced.
Sorry, I went overboard again. But really. It’s very good.
A (1 hr., 43 min.; )