I guess part of the difficulty, for me, lies in absolutely loving Toy Story 2. I think it was a perfect sequel, speaking to me on different levels. But more than that, it's difficult to categorise Toy Story 3 with 2 as 3 has not yet had the benefit of time and growing meaning. The Toy Story 2 I watch now is entirely different to the Toy Story 2 I first watched. Having said that, this third entry is right up there with the rest of Pixar’s work and it's a more than fitting send-off for this beloved group of characters.
Toy Story and Toy Story 2, while being fun-filled kids films with a cast of fantastic characters also dealt with deeper issues, handled with a deft balance. And this isn't even talking about Pixar's latest, riskier outputs. So, Toy Story 3 has a lot to live up to. And while I don't think it reaches the lofty highs of Toy Story 2, The Incredibles or Up it's still far superior to pretty much everything else released this year. That's how high the bar is set with Pixar.
As Andy is moving away to college the remaining toys find themselves at Sunnyside Day Care. At first glance it seems to be a haven for old toys but they soon realise the place is more like a prison, ruled over by the cuddly but cold Lotsa Huggin Bear. There are a couple of cool riffs on classic escape films such as Cool Hand Luke and The Great Escape, as the crew of Andy’s toys attempt to extract themselves from Sunnyside. Hilarity, as they so often say, ensues. But not just hilarity; there is a very real pathos and a couple of truly dark moments as this make-shift family try to find a new path. Not just out of the tyrannically run day care centre, but a new home as Andy grows up and moves on.
And boy, does it get dark. There is one point were it seems, very possibly, to be the End. Where it seems like there is no hope of escape or rescue and that Disney/Pixar are going to let these guys be killed off. It's harrowing, and I don't say that lightly. It possibly even carries more weight for the fact it's found in a kids' film. I would say it's right up there with the death of Bambi's mum, in terms of pure emotional impact.
There are, of course, a bunch of new characters introduced with many of them being a lot of fun. There is a downside to introducing so many new characters: barely any of them get a chance to shine, to really stand out past a few golden lines. Even the main characters suffer under the weight of so many new toys. Even so, the real joy is just getting to hang out with these guys again. Woody is as neurotic and loyal as ever and we get a Latin spin on the “Buzz thinks he’s a real spaceman” shtick (which is actually funnier than it sounds).
This is all, of course, rather surface viewing. As with all Pixar films there is a lot more going on under the surface, and totally open to interpretation. This is what I'm still mulling over; I've already read two reviews with two very different takes on it. One positing that the toys are all employees doing a job, with Andy as their boss and Toy Story 3 is all about retirement (Empire.com). Yet another reviewer's take on it was that Andy is some sort of benevolent God and the films deals with losing faith, and sticking to the faithful path (Chud.com). Neither one really ring right with me, and it's this I hope to talk about in a second review (after the insanity of Film Festival of course).
My journey with these characters is over (although sure to be revisited on DVD), and I couldn't be happier with the send off they were given.