Personally, I am very torn on Toy Story 3. While bringing Pixar animation to new heights, it also suffers from a few big storytelling faults.
Much like the blockbuster intro to Toy Story 2 where Buzz Lightyear invades his arch nemesis secret lair, Toy Story 3 begins with another action-packed genre film intro that isn’t quite what it seems.
Shortly thereafter, we jump right into the story. 11 years have passed since Toy Story 2. Their owner, Andy, is now cleaning house in preparation for his departure to college. Every toy in the box is worried about their fate. There are four possibilities: get taken to college, remain in a box in the attic, get thrown out with the garbage or be donated to Sunnyside, the local preschool. It all rests in the hands of Andy.
Being his oldest and most favored toy, Woody ends up in the box going to college. Not knowing their destination, Buzz, Jessie, Bull’s-Eye, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm, Barbie and Slink end up in a big black Hefty sack. En route to the attic, Andy leaves that bag in the hallway where his mother mistakes it for trash and takes it out to the curb.
When the gang realizes they are being thrown out, they make a break for the Sunnyside box in the garage, believing that any level of play is better than ending up at the city dump. When Woody breaks out of the house to rescue them and reassure them that Andy did not mean to throw them out, they refuse to believe him and insistently set their sights on getting to the day care center. Of course, Woody gets stuck going to Sunnyside with them – requiring a quick breakout before Andy leaves for college.
Except nothing in Sunnyside is as it seems. All of the toys there put on a friendly face, but in reality none of them know how to play nice. The gang is forced to remain in the destructive kids’ playroom and Buzz is reset to “demo mode,” causing him to become the evil guard who holds the rest of the gang captive in this day care prison camp. Woody is faced with the moral decision of helping his friends escape or race home to go to college with Andy.
The problems all lie within the first 30 minutes of Toy Story 3. While the intro is very fun, it feels like you have already seen it before since that is the exact same way Toy Story 2 opens. And then it feels even more repetitious once Woody tries to convince the gang that things are not as they seem (just like he did in Toy Story 1), only to be betrayed by the only group of friends he has got – once again. The catalyst to the third film should not be the same as the first one.
Considering this is the third installment to a well-written and extremely loved series, the writing should be better than that. You would expect more from Pixar. The first third of the movie feels like it is simply rehashing material from the first two – and not in a “throwback” manner.
Once Buzz and company end up in Sunnyside, the film turns in a dark and depressing way, achieving a tone that we have never felt in a Pixar film before – despair. These toys literally end up in prison. And while some of these scenes playfully pay homage to Cool Hand Luke, it is still such grim material that I argue it does not belong in a kid’s film.
There is one point in Toy Story 3 – without spoiling anything – where it goes to such a deep, dark and depressing place that you consciously think to yourself, “I don’t want to be watching this anymore.” In this moment, I looked around to see everyone in the audience drying their eyes. In talking with people afterward, I learned that I am not the only one who did not want to see things unfold the way they did.
I am not trying to say that these scenes are bad or that you should not take your children to see Toy Story 3. It is the opposite. Everything that happens in the second two-thirds of the film is amazing, absolutely brilliant. I am saying that the things that happen in Toy Story 3 – the tone and the places it takes you – are not in harmony with the tone already established in the Toy Story saga.
Toy Story 3 is not made for the kids of today; it is made for those who grew up back when the first ones came out who are now grown up – much like Andy. Kids of today may watch it and enjoy it, but the true audience that this is aimed at is the one that saw the first two in theaters and is now grown up, moving on from childish things. Toy Story 3 works on an adult level, bringing a level of intensity and emotional connection that has never been present in an animated film before.
Even though Disney may push more sequels forward in the future, Pixar definitely gave Toy Story 3 a saga-closing finish. The perfectly bittersweet ending that brings these toys’ story full circle is sure to stir the tears in anyone as we say goodbye to the big screen toys that we grew up with.
Photo credit: Walt Disney