Toy Story 3: Or How I Was Reduced to a Blubbering Mess of a Man

I don’t cry at movies easily. Yes, as those close to me will tell you, I am a bit of a softie at heart, and I’ll get choked up at a film or an especially moving TV show. Perhaps you may even see a tear roll out of my left eye– I’ve found that when a movie brings me to tears, my left eye is usually the weaker of the two. However, as Toy Story 3 came to a close, I realized this film accomplished what no other movie has to date: it made me cry from both of my eyes… for an extended period of time… in a crowded movie theater. Me! The hard-hearted movie critic! How, pray tell, could this have come to pass? Simple. Pixar knows that you must tell a story well, and you must care about the characters. From concept to execution to nostalgia for the previous films, you have a perfect storm built to conjure emotions without resorting to cheap manipulation. It’s all earned. It’s also, without question, one of the best movies of the year.

I’ll give only the most basic plot details, because the less you know, the better the experience will be for you. After a dazzling opening sequence, full of references to the opening sequence of the first film, Andy has graduated from high school and is off to college soon. Now comes a dreaded moment of growing up: Mom wants the room to be emptied out, so Andy needs to decide what toys are going with him to college, what toys are going up to the attic, what toys are being donated to Sunnyside Day Care down the street, and what toys are being thrown away. The numbers have depleted in Andy’s room– several toys have long since been given away, and only Andy’s favorites remain… but as they lament, they haven’t been played with in a long time. Woody (Tom Hanks) reminds them all what their purpose is: to remain there for Andy whenever he needs them, regardless of how long they have to wait or if they have to reside in the attic for years and years. The others have their doubts, but they follow their leader.

Through a series of circumstances not to be revealed here (including a hilarious blink-and-you-miss-it cameo by an old adversary), the toys end up going to Sunnyside, despite the fact that Andy was going to take Woody to college and put the rest in the attic. It seems heavenly at first, and they meet several nice new toys, led by Lotso (Ned Beatty), who explains to them why the day care is so great. Every day, all year long, the playrooms are filled with kids who want nothing more than to play with the toys, and after a year passes, a new batch of kids comes in. No growing old, no attics, no neglect– you stay loved forever. Everyone is happy… except Woody, whose loyalty insists that he leave and return to Andy. Woody’s adventure takes him to another house, while those at Sunnyside soon realize that their new residence is not as ideal as it seemed.

Remember how I said this movie made me cry harder than I’ve ever cried in a theater? Think about this: I was crying because Pixar has made me care about inanimate objects more than I care for all other human characters in the history of cinema. I know toys don’t get up and have private lives when I leave the room. Logic dictates that this is only a film. Yet their emotions are human, their friendships are human, their joys and fears are all relatable. How many people haven’t felt they need to stand up for a friend? How many people haven’t felt the betrayal of those closest to you not siding with you in a moment of adversity? How many people haven’t gone into something difficult feeling reassured, because you know those you love are by your side? And these toys, these pieces of plastic, capture these emotions more vividly than any real living actor can do on celluloid in years. Is that a compliment to Pixar… or an insult to the quality of live action films produced by Hollywood these days?

When I was young, I woke up in the middle of the night once, and I was certain I saw my statue of Groucho Marx moving. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. I was terrified. I put Groucho in the closet and went back to sleep. It wasn’t a fear that Groucho would kill me or anything like that– it was the same sort of fear that one got when one first heard of Santa Claus. The idea that there was something moving in your home, something that you had no control over, something that you couldn’t see but you really wanted to. Toy Story captures that vivid imagination of a child. Everything that you thought and suspected and hoped might be going on in your room actually came true. Not only that, but it’s a secret legion of loyal friends, fully dedicated to making your life better. It’s wish fulfillment, for any child or anyone who remembers what it was like to be a child.

There are two moments in the final twenty minutes of the film that pulled my heartstrings like none other. One is a moment in which our heroes face their final fate, and they respond in a way that only the hardest of hearts wouldn’t respond to. The other, the one that I suspect anyone over the age of eighteen would sympathize with, is the moment in which Andy finally decides what to do with his toys. It’s both heartbreaking and utterly satisfying. I’m sure if anyone leaves comments, they will be riddled with spoilers, so do yourself a favor and skip them until you see the film. It’s the type of scene that after watching it, you realize you’ll remember it forever– it’s been fifteen years with these characters, and discovering what seems to be the end of one chapter of their “lives” has an emotional impact rarely found in film. If this is the end of the Toy Story saga, it is literally the best ending to a trilogy in the history of cinema.

Individual moments are all great. Each sequence seems as clever as the one before it. Unlike Toy Story 2, which I felt forcefed us some new characters, everyone we’re introduced to here fits wonderfully into the world, including Lotso, Ken (Michael Keaton), Trixie (Melanie Schaal), Chuckles (Bud Luckey), Chatter Telephone (Teddy Newton), and my personal favorite, Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton). Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head have a lovely rapport, and Buzz and Jessie appear to start striking up a romance of their own. These characters are growing and developing themselves, just like Andy. I was concerned when I saw the trailer, replete with poop jokes and Spanish Buzz Lightyear, thinking that perhaps the gimmickry that bogs down normal sequels (including, to a degree, Toy Story 2) would claim the legacy of one of the finest films of the past two decades. Instead, this film is a marked improvement over Toy Story 2 and serves as a worthy bookend to the original. It’s not a landmark in cinematic history like the first, but it’s a landmark in strong emotional storytelling, something not seen nearly often enough in today’s multiplexes. I hope this is the end of the Toy Story journey, but if they can keep coming up with ideas this wonderful and execution this flawless, then they can feel free to take this franchise to infinity and beyond.

~ by russellhainline on June 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “Toy Story 3: Or How I Was Reduced to a Blubbering Mess of a Man”

  1. toy story 3.ilove it.i love every sequel of it.Love buzz too

  2. […] Bone 8. Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 7. Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3 6. Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours 5. Mike Leigh, Another Year 4. Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit 3. Jesse […]

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