I nearly forgot what it was like to attend a film that contained a hundred laughs. The laugh-to-minute ratio of Toy Story 3 is unparalleled and yet the heart and soul of every character is explicit in many wonderful ways. This is going to be a hefty worldwide blockbuster, no doubt about it, but if there are a few out there reluctant to attend because they think they are just going to get more of the same then it must be said: You are only depriving yourself unadulterated joy if you skip this.
With childlike intuition, the writers of this third installment are submerged into the myths and branding of every character, every toy: Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Hamm the pig, Rex the dinosaur, Slinky Dog, Ken and Barbie, the (obsolete) Chatter Telephone, the Bookworm, and of course, Woody and Buzz Lightyear (Tom Hanks and Tim Allen respectively). If the toys are alive – when humans aren’t around – then they must see everything from a ground level and from a human boy’s bedroom level, and director Lee Unkrich (overtaking John Lasseter’s seat) and the writers capture this microcosm world with fantastic, boundless wit.
The prelude is a fantasy cliffhanger (just as “Toy Story 2” did) that is rock ’em and sock ’em, but we are soon back in Andy’s bedroom only after a montage that shows him growing up, but now on the verge of taking off to college. This means that the toys are either going up to the attic for permanent storage or going off to donation. Andy and Andy’s mom, two imperfect humans with imperfect communication, get confused as to their agreement of where the toys go. And Woody is the one toy selected to attend Andy to college while the rest will meet another fate.
That other fate is a Daycare Center where they will be loved by more a few dozen rugrats. For Buzz Lightyear and the rest, this new destination will be paradise but minds are changed abruptly as soon as 21stcentury daycare kiddie monsters roughhouse the toys – playtime does not equal fun time. Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty) is the overseer of this community, so when adults and kids go home at night he is less sweet and chubby and more gruff and bossy. The story has fun with satirizing camps and prisons, as well as a police state with Lotso (short name) as Big Brother. Ken is like the Gestapo of the camp dishing out special privileges to the high-maintenance Barbie who uses the art of fashion as an ultimate means of empowerment.
In a way the entire message of the movie is about identity-shifting with its characters compromising themselves under a new ownership. Not an individual ownership but a community property ownership that is the Daycare Center. Woody wisely foresees that his family is being broken up and divided like low-grade commodities, and the Daycare Center is the grounds of a stock exchange (toys are used, more often abused while traded in the hands of copious humans, but not loved). As characteristic of him, Woody reacts swiftly to overthrow Lotso and to lead his family of toys to exodus. As usual of Pixar cleverness, the twists and turns tap the characters to make bold new decisions while embarking onto strange new lands – ordinary land to us, the unknown to them.
In the meantime, Buzz falls victim to mainframe pre-programming that only makes his good time heroics more debonair. This adventure of revolt will delight kids, but on a more adult level it takes on existential meaning: If the toys are obsolete in Andy’s world, then where in the world can they live now?
As Woody’s gang faces their apparition of Inferno in the final act, a collective heart is discovered amongst the toys that is as touching as anything found in Disney animated classics. And the animated art itself is as imaginative as to final scenes of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957), an eternal sci-fi classic that modern audiences might have unfairly neglected. Check it out.
The anxiety at the conclusion is genuine, but the cheerful and triumphant feelings an audience will discover will be unmistakable here. Walt Disney has not fulfilled the promise of old-fashioned, good-hearted entertainment with their roster lately (fear the drudgery of both “Prince of Persia” and “Alice in Wonderland”). But here arrives an exception that Disney (and its division Pixar) takes you to a brand new wonderful world once again. And it’s – you read it here – one of their most perfect creations.
103 Minutes. Rated G.
ANIMATION / PIXAR / MASTERPIECE VIEWING FOR ANYTIME OF YEAR
Film Cousins: “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957); “Toy Story” (1995); “Toy Story 2″ (1999); “Monsters Inc.” (2001).