Third time still a charm for endearing toys
It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since Pixar Animation Studios changed the world of animation with Toy Story - and almost harder to believe I was just beginning my high school career at the time. I was just starting at N.C. State when Pixar unwrapped Toy Story 2, which was better than the original, and the films haven't lost any of their appeal over the last decade.
While Pixar has created many cinematic spectacles over the years - including Finding Nemo, Wall-E, The Incredibles and Ratatouille - the toys have always held a special place in everyone's heart, I believe. With Pixar's track record of focusing on great, character-driven scripts before creating stunning visuals, I will admit I was much more excited than cautious entering Toy Story 3.
The third film in the series is just as delightful as the first two, if a little sadder. Much like those of us who were children when we first met Woody, Buzz, Slinky Dog and the Potato Heads, the owner of the toys - their beloved Andy - has grown up.
Toy Story 3 begins with a wonderful, hilarious action sequence in which Woody and Jessie (the cowgirl introduced in TS2) attempt to stop a train robbery by the Potato Heads. The scenario is all dreamed up by Andy, of course, and is an incredibly happy time for the toys - they're providing joy for their owner, which is what they were made to do.
Andy quickly grows up through a montage, and after several years he is ready to go to college. Like most teenagers, he has long since grown out of playing with toys and moved on to skateboards and computers. But for the gang, this just means they now spend all their time stored away in a chest.
The adventure begins after the toys mistakenly get donated to the Sunnyside Day Care, a facility that is home to hundreds of toys led by Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear. While they are being played with again - though not in a manner they feel is appropriate - the toys hatch a scheme to escape and return to Andy.
What follows is a very unpredictable journey that's equal parts ensemble comedy, prison escape and poignant drama. As I mentioned previously, there's a lot of sadness in this film - these toys have long outlived their original purpose and, unlike Andy, don't have aspirations of furthering their education and their career. They're toys, after all, but despite their plastic and metal components, their hearts break all the same. Ben Folds probably put it best, in his song Still Fighting It, when he sang: "Everybody knows, it hurts to grow up."
But it's also exciting, as these toys are about to find out. Toy Story 3 understands all of this and is a sweet, enchanting film about not only moving on but moving up. Much like Andy, Pixar has itself grown up - the animation here, when compared to Toy Story, is so crisp and clean.
Elements that seemed impossible to create in 1995 - like hair - now look seamless.
The animators themselves have also matured over the years, tackling darker topics, such as death, broken hearts and loss in Nemo and Up, or environmental crisis in Wall-E. It's been amazing watching them find so much humanity in fish, monsters, rats, robots and talking dogs (I do not like the cone of shame!), all the while never losing their energy and youthfulness. All of these films - including Toy Story 3 - were daring enough to tackle serious issues but still adventurous, hilarious and fun.
What I love about Toy Story 3 is that director Lee Unkrich - who wrote the script with Toy Story director John Lasseter and Nemo director Andrew Stanton - has created a film that has allowed the series to grow up with us. This isn't nostalgia, a throwback to the characters we loved 15 years ago - it's a new adventure that we can appreciate now that just happens to contain all of our old friends.
In a cinescape overrun with brainless sequels and remakes that only exist to appeal to our nostalgia, Toy Story 3 is a breath of fresh air. It's also one of the best films of the year.
Toy Story 3 is rated G and is currently playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone and Parkway Theatre in West Jefferson.