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Toy Story 3

11 years after the second film, Pixar gives us Toy Story 3. Although, as my Dad commented, the premise wears a little thin the third time around, it’s still quite a good film, thoughtful and clever, and also exciting and touching.

Some spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it:

The toys’ owner, Andy, is now 17 and about to head to college. Most of his toys have been given away or thrown out over the years, and he hasn’t played with the remainder in quite some time. Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) is trying to encourage everyone to deal with the eventuality of being stored in the attic, hopefully to someday be brought back to play with Andy’s own kids. But a series of mishaps result in the gang being donated to Sunnyvale Day Care. Encouraged by the warm welcome by the leader of the day care’s toys, Lots-o-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty), the toys elect to remain, while Woody heads back to go to college with Andy.

But all is not well at the day care, as Lotso is a tyrant who puts the new toys in the preschoolers’ room, where they endure rough play from kids not old enough to appreciate them. Lotso and his people neutralize Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and imprison the others. Woody, meanwhile, gets lost and ends up in the home of a little girl, where he learns from her toys of the horrors of the day care, and resolves to rescue his friends and get back to Andy.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that the film’s writers had a starting point (“What happens to the toys when their owner grows up?”) and a happy ending point in mind for the film, but bridging the gap between the two is where the adventure comes in: What are some other fates that may befall the toys? We see plenty of possibilities along the way.

This film belongs almost entirely to Woody, even more than the first two: Woody is a little more mature than he was before, and he bears the weight of his collapsing world on his shoulders, but he’s still naive and not-too-bright, so although he always tries to do the right thing and “will never give up on you”, it can take him a while to see what the right thing really is. In a sense, the whole story is a mechanism to show Woody that there are better options for himself and his friends, and that although the road is hard, the journey is worthwhile.

It’s a much darker film than the first two, as from the outset it’s tinged with nostalgia and a sense of loss: If the first two films were about throwing our heroes out of their comfort zone, here their comfort zone is years behind them and they’re adrift, trying to grasp any sense of hope they can find. The story reaches its emotional bottom shortly before the big climax, and it’s as grim a scene as in any Pixar film I can recall, as the toys think they’ve reached the end of the line at a garbage dump. But when they get out of it, I laughed out loud at the audacity of it.

It’s an artfully-constructed film, with various details strewn around, Hitchcock-style, which are used later as plot devices. And for some of the supporting characters it’s a story of redemption – or lack thereof – as always revolving around the theme of sticking with your friends through good times a bad. Turning your back on your friends always leads to bad things. (On the one hand you’d think the toys wouldn’t have to keep learning this. On the other hand, it’s not like humans take these keep these lessons close to their hearts when faced with differences of opinion, either.) But for the toys who remember this lesson (sooner or later), it’s happy endings all around.

The ending is a true tear-jerker, but it should touch the heart of anyone who’s closed the book on a period of their life and looked back on it sadly.

The animation is, as always, stellar. They’ve especially got the movements of the humans down pat (I wonder how much of it is rotoscoped and how much is modeled from whole cloth).

Though not quite on the level of Up, it’s still a strong an satisfying film. Yes, it suffers a bit from being repetitive of the earlier films (the same lessons learned, the same get-back-to-Andy storyline), but the Pixar crew manage to make another interesting variation on the theme, and it’s all just so darned heartwarming that how can you really object to it?