In 1995’s groundbreaking Toy Story, we were introduced to Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang. When a new toy, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) was introduced to the group, Woody was convinced he was going to be replaced as Andy’s favorite toy. By the end of the film, after a series of adventures, the two were best buddies. In 1999’s Toy Story 2, the dynamic took a bit of a turn when Woody is stolen by a toy dealer, and discovers that he’s a collectable. Buzz and the gang ultimately rescue Woody, and a few new members of “Woody’s Roundup” are added to the gang. Where does one go with the story, for a third outing? If a toy’s greatest fears are abandonment, then the worst thing that could happen to a toy is that its owner grows up and tosses the toy away. This is the case in Toy Story 3, which comes 11-years later. Now a teenager, Andy is preparing to go to college and has to decide which toys get taken with him, put in storage in the attic, or donated to Sunnyside, a local day care.
After a bit of a misunderstanding, Buzz and Jesse (Joan Cusack), along with Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Slinky Dog (Blake Clark) believe they are being thrown out, while Woody was picked for college. They decide to go to Sunnyside instead, and when Woody tries to explain that they weren’t actually meant to be thrown out – and were intended to the attic – he gets stuck in the car with them and taken to Sunnyside. There they discover a veritable paradise full of toys, and a multitude of kids who seem eager to play with them. Barbie (Jodi Benson) even finds her match, Ken (Michael Keaton), and everything seems to be happy. Woody insists that they go back to Andy, but Buzz and the others want to stay at the day care. Disappointed, Woody escapes – but is soon found by Bonnie, and taken to her home.
Back at Sunnyside, the toy leader is a plush teddy bear, Lotso (Ned Beatty), who seems to welcome them with open arms, but very soon, things turn out to be quite the opposite. Buzz and the gang are abused by the kids who are not age-appropriate for them, and it becomes clear that Sunnyside is more of a prison than a paradise, ruled by a very dictatorial Lotso. When Buzz tries to confront Lotso and his subordinates, they “reset” him, turning him against the gang when they try to escape. Meanwhile at Bonnie’s, Woody meets her toys, an acting troupe featuring Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and thespian Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton). He learns from the clown Chuckles (Bud Luckey) what Lotso’s backstory is, and how Sunnyside has turned into a gulag. He then makes it his mission to get back into Sunnyside, rescue Buzz and the gang, and get them all safely back to Andy.
Toy Story 3 is directed by Lee Unkrich and written by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) based on a story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Unkrich. The storytellers at Pixar have created another masterpiece; a powerfully moving story about loyalty and abandonment, friendship and respect. The last act of the film is exciting, heartbreaking, and incredibly moving – if you don’t have tears in your eyes during the last scene, then your own humanity can rightfully be called into question. The vocal acting is top notch, and the story pacing pitch-perfect. The music score by Randy Newman references musical motifs from the other two scores, but there are times – especially towards the climax of the film – where it sounds much bigger and more dramatic than we’re used to hearing in a Toy Story film, and the end title song feels a bit forced; the Gypsy Kings rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is a lot more engaging. Still, this is one of the best films of the year, and absolutely worth seeing.