I know I’m two weeks late for this, but it’s taken me a week to absorb how much I enjoyed Toy Story 3, both from an entertainment perspective and a life enjoyment perspective. Pixar movies are always such a mystery. They’re designed for kids, but the adults are the ones who learn from them. This has especially been the case in the past few years with the releases of Ratatoullie, Wall-E, and the extremely emotionally challenging Up. Yes, they are cartoons, but they touch on themes and ideas that their target audience could not understand. Instead, these themes and lessons touch the guardians in ways that make the adult viewer value the fact that children these days are treated to such wonderful movies.
I could write literally essays about all the motifs and messages that arise out of films like Wall-E and Up, but let’s get to the task at hand. This review is about Toy Story 3, part of a movie series that launched a new generation of not only animated films, but also high caliber family oriented cinema. When I sat in the theatre, I was expecting TS3 to be a lighter fare compared to the Pixar movies of the last few years. I was thinking more of a Cars type movie rather than Up. Toy Story 1 and 2 have touched on mature themes such as abandonment and acceptance, but those issues haven’t come close to the darker themes such as death and loss featured in a movie like Up. I thought Toy Story 3 would just be a movie where I could enjoy my own nostalgia, and nothing more. Never did I think Toy Story 3 would be a movie that would hit my heart as close as Up did, never. I would soon learn I was wrong.
When we first start the film, we realize the world of TS3 has changed dramatically since we last saw it. Times have changed since the first two movies came out, and that’s reflected in Toy Story 3. Andy is older, his mom is older, Molly is older, even the dog is older. Right away, I sensed this was not going to be a movie for just for kids like the past two films simply because there were no kids present. In a way, it made me a bit melancholy. If you grew up watching these films, heed my advice, Toy Story 3 will make you feel old. Andy, the toy’s lovable owner, is no longer that kid you remember when you were a kid. He’s now old, just like you, and it’s a sad realization. Granted it’s something that us millenials face every day, the constant bombardment of age. We got bills to pay, responsibilities to take care of, families to start. Yup, we know we’re getting older all the time. But to see it manifest in a movie you thought was timeless, it’s a tough fact to face. And this is only the beginning of the movie.
We quickly shoot to present day, where we notice Andy’s toys have dwindled to a select group. All the peripheral characters like Shark, Weezy, and even Bo Peep are gone, broken or sold. Only Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Slink, and a few other main characters are still there. In a way, the lack of all those extra toys gave the movie an almost survivalist tone. Woody and a few of the toys that are still around are fighting for a chance to remain relevant. You can feel the desperation in the air as they scramble to make plans for life without Andy. Some are realists about it, knowing that this day would come, others are optimistic, convinced that they’ll always have a place in Andy’s mind even if other things come along to distract him. That optimist is Woody, of course.
I don’t want to divulge too much of the story, but most of the second act is basically just plot. The toys get stuck in daycare and decide to stay while Woody is determined to make it back to Andy when he gets lost in the shuffle as well. The daycare is run by a Southern type stuffed bear named Lotso, who serves as a Boss Hoss overseer and the main villain. He’s pretty much your typical Disney villain, nothing as complex as Stinky Pete from Toy Story 2. Eventually the toys make a break for it when they realize Andy still cares for them, and they are not junk that can easily be pushed aside. Yeah, like I said, lots of plot, which is actually refreshing admist all the emotional baggage thrown in the first act.
They make their break but then get stuck in the trash and end up at the dump. This is when things get really scary and really emotional. Basically, once the toys get to the garbage scene toward the end, it’s a thrill ride full of danger. I found this really different in a Pixar film. There have been a lot of action sequences in past Pixar films like the Incredibles, but the scenes presented in Toy Story 3 had a different tone. While The Incredibles’ action was fun and exciting, Toy Story 3’s action was dark and almost morbid. It’s set in the dark surroundings of a lightless garbage truck, which sets up an environment of clausterphobia. The toys also take their share of bumps while fighting to survive. This is where the tone is different. When I was watching their desperate struggle, I really feared that this was the end for the toys, unlike in any other Pixar film. Sure Wall-E almost died in his film, and Carl and Russell were being shot at by a crazy old man, but never when watching those films did I think, this is it. In Toy Story 3, because of the dark tones of the toys losing their purpose combined with the awful setting of the dump, I really felt that that could’ve been it. In probably the climax of the film, the toys look like their going to bite the big one. They stare their end straight in the eye, and what do they do? They didn’t fight it, they didn’t run, they accepted their fates, held hands, and were ready to share their last moments together. Woddy, Buzz, Jessie, all of them. And that’s when the audience cried. To make it so far in their journey to be accepted by Andy and fail, and then realize it didn’t matter because they accepted each other, it touch adults in ways that even the greatest tearjerkers could not do.
But naturally, it’s a Disney movie, the heroes never die, and it’s safe to say Woody and the gang made it out alive and eventually returned to their owner. But that wasn’t even the saddest part. The saddest and greatest scene in Toy Story 3 had to be the end, when not only did the toys let go, but Andy did to. He decides to give the toys to someone who would cherish them as much as he did. Yet, he did so reluctantly. These lifeless things were what he grew up with. They were there for him when he was lonely, they played with him when he was sad, they loved him in ways every human wants to be loved. Andy was those toys’ world, he did not want to lose such companionship.
But, he knew it was time to let go. It was time to grow up, it was time to move on. The central theme of the movie could not be more clear. And as he said one last good bye to the toys he loved, and he had one final playtime as he opened a new chapter in his life, it was time for us, the viewer to do the same. We often look at movies, toys, memories as things we want to cherish forever. These are the things that make us smile, make us laugh. Yet, we know, in our hearts, we cannot sit and play with our toys and reflect on our memories forever. If we do, we’ll be stuck in the past. We must go on to other things, to make new memories. And that’s the lesson that both Woody and Andy, toy and owner had to learn. It’s also the lesson that we struggle to learn everyday. Just like how Woody struggled to let go and move on, we do the same. But the great thing about Toy Story 3 is that the message is clear and simple: it’s okay to move on, it’s okay to let go, things will work out, whether you’re ready or not. If only the real world were so black and white.
It’s odd that a children’s film can offer so much depth, but that’s what great movies do. And Toy Story 3 is a great movie.