Expectations are always extraordinarily high for any new Disney/Pixar film, and “Toy Story 3,” their latest animated film, exceeds them all. The latest installment in the now three-movie series comes full-circle with a touching and brilliantly suspenseful journey that, although it follows the “lives” of a group of toys, evokes a series of emotions we real humans relate to.
The series began in 1995 with “Toy Story,” the first-ever feature-length, computer-generated animated film, telling the story of a group of toys handling the responsibilities of entertaining their owner, a young boy named Andy, along the way taking viewers through hilarious adventures. “Toy Story” was funny and unique, aimed at children of all ages who have ever imagined their own toys coming to life.
While “Toy Story” revolutionized the animation industry, introducing the world to the power of computer animation, Pixar used its 1999 follow-up, “Toy Story 2,” to show that the animated film is not a genre but simply a medium for expression. Emotion poured in and out of “Toy Story 2,” bringing tears to the eyes of audiences everywhere during “When She Loved Me,” Jessie the Cowgirl’s song recounting time spent with her former owner.
Through the years, Pixar has continued to thrive on captivating audiences by creating emotional connections to characters that at first may be thought of as unrelatable. They have done so by injecting natural human responses and feelings to create deeply complex characters repeatedly. Whether it’s been a fish searching for his lost son in “Finding Nemo,” robots looking for love in “Wall-E,” or understanding the emptiness an old man feels in “Up,” Pixar has stretched viewers’ emotional range to not only feel for the plights of the characters but feel along with them, recounting similar experiences in their own lives.
So while “Toy Story” acted as our introduction to Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang and “Toy Story 2” presented us with more of their adventures, “Toy Story 3” emerges 11 years later as the reunion with old friends who we may not have realized just how much we missed and carefully uses this lapse of time as the stepping stone to a thrilling and emotion-filled tale.
Themes of love and loss are predominant throughout “Toy Story 3,” beginning with early moments in the film as the formerly young boy Andy has now grown up, is heading off to college, and must decide whether the old “Toy Story” gang is worth keeping around or if they’re destined for donation or, even worse, the dump.
The adventure that ensues brings the viewing audience to the highest highs and the lowest lows, filling each viewer with laughter, tension, and even a few scares. The movie brings out the best and the worst in the characters we’ve grown to love, creating even greater insight into who these toys really are and what values they hold dear. Whether it’s a new character like the mysterious Lots-o-Huggin Bear (Lotso) or an old friend like Woody, they all showcase all sides of their personalities – both good and bad.
While “Toy Story 3” begins light-hearted, it finds its way into shockingly grim situations, with the film’s climax taking quite a serious tone, portraying the most emotional, gut-wrenching, and surprising moments I’ve ever seen in an animated film. The expressions Pixar has created on the “Toy Story” characters’ faces are so stunningly well-communicated that words aren’t even necessary to describe the wide range of emotions they face. And if that isn’t enough, the film’s dénouement does not leave a dry eye in the house.
Because of its wide emotional range, I cannot describe “Toy Story 3” as just a children’s film. While it may be rated G, “Toy Story 3” is as much a fun film about toys for kids as it is a poignant film for adults about life, separation, and cherished memories. The series that began 15 years ago has successfully taken the nostalgia we now feel for it and incorporate it into its plot, mirrored by Andy’s departure. Just as Woody and the group don’t want to see Andy leave them behind, we, as viewers, don’t want the series to leave us.
Pixar’s filmmakers clearly understand the connection, so many of us have developed with these characters. A child who saw the original “Toy Story” at four years old in 1995 is likely now preparing for college, right alongside Andy, excited for the future of adulthood but also trying to hold onto to pieces of their childhood past, which likely also includes their own Woody and Buzz toys. The film’s carefully crafted conclusion not only rounds out the story perfectly but also serves as a nod to “Toy Story” fans who have stuck with it for its entire 15-year run.
While the potential for a “Toy Story 4” is left hanging, the ongoing story’s basic premise of a group of toys whose sole purpose in life is to entertain their owner ends here at “Toy Story 3” – and it does so with grace.
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