Take any trilogy of films under the blue sky, and you will discover that rarely anyone holds a consistent quality across the board. Even if you can name ten trilogies that manage to retain quality, you’ll be hard pressed to pick out the one that has a third film which is the best one of the bunch. Toy Story 3 is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of these rare and treasured examples. The question of whether it is suitable for your children is a whole other matter…
(Keep in mind that this review will contain heavy spoilers!)
Before we address the literal aspects of the story, we need to hash out a few ‘technical details’ in advance. Once more, the quality of animation, writing, and acting is top notch. All of the actors from previous films return, with some new players added to the equation. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, the legendary Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head – they are all there. Newcomers include the seasoned Ned Beatty as Lotso the teddy bear, Michael Keaton as Ken and Jodi Benson of the Little Mermaid fame as Barbie. While the directorial baton is given to Lee Unkrich, John Lasseter is still the ‘powerhouse’ behind the story and production. In other words, both you and your kid can expect stellar and appropriately ‘comfy’ entertainment.
Now, let’s proceed to the story, and boy oh boy do we have some big things to discuss!
‘Growth’ has always been the most important theme of Toy Story films, and while the first two tackled a whole basket case of topics that may interest adults as much as children, Toy Story 3 puts the question of growth and change into the forefront. Andy is now a young adult and he is about to leave for college. The major chapter of his life is about to begin, but another has to be closed and left behind.
This terrible, melancholic notion of ‘left behind’ is what tugs at your heartstrings as you witness the fate of Andy’s sentient toys – the eclectic roster of characters which we have grown to love over the course of two previous films. In another ‘series of unfortunate events’ which have become the staple of the franchise, our beloved toys end up in a day-care center instead of Andy’s attic. Woody tries to be the voice of reason in this situation as he tries to convince his companions that they were not abandoned and that they have to return home, where they belong.
However, they are faced with a long list of complications in the day-care center, not the least of which is embodied in the character of Lotso, the plush teddy bear that is not as ‘soft’ on the inside as he is on the outside. There is a ‘pecking order’ our protagonists need to respect, and a hierarchy that is imposed upon them in the worst way imaginable.
Complications arise, and the film turns into a sort of ‘prison break’ adventure with tense overtones that can get a bit dark in places.
One of the oldest and simplest games in the book, but it’s precisely this simplicity that makes the game appealing. Children should move around the room without ever touching the floor, or they lose. You can make it more interesting for them by allowing them to prepare the ‘field’ in advance: they can move the chairs and cushions around, thus creating little ‘islands’ where they can rest.
In addition, you can also give them a task to reach something you’ve put in the middle of the room without touching the floor. This way, they will improve their gross motor skills and have loads of fun in the process.
All in all, it is a significantly darker film than the first two, and it might be a bit too intense for some boys and girls younger than six. The sense of latent desperation permeates through the film, especially for those viewers that were invested in the story since the first feature. Quite simply, all of the worst fears of Woody and the gang are realized in this film (abandonment, inability to return home, pressure from the day-care toys), and it tests them beyond anything you’ve seen before.
While you’ll find a lot of levity through humor in each scene, the filmmakers really go out of their way to dig deep into your heart and reinvigorate your long-forgotten sense of guilt and pity for the toys that you used to own. Does it sound like this is more of a review for adults than kids?
The answer is a resounding yes, and the reason for this is quite simple. Believe it or not, this film may prove to be significantly more traumatic for parents than children. The underlying messages and emotions mentioned above will mostly fly over the heads of youngsters and they will see this film for what it shows – a rollicking adventure with some tense moments that end well for all of our favorite characters.
The appropriately iconic and undeniably haunting line from the second film ‘You never forget kids like Emily or Andy… but they forget you,’ is at the center of dramatic tension throughout the entire saga, and at the end of the film, the tension is relieved in the most beautiful, heart-warming and poignant way imaginable. What I’m trying to say is – I cried like a baby when the film came out. My 4-year-old niece thought the film was absolutely a blast and she hadn’t the foggiest why I was bawling my eyes out. She was only too ecstatic that the toys – MAJOR SPOILERS – find a new home with Andy’s blessing after all they’ve been through.
Learn more about Toy Story 3 details here on IMDB.
However, I saw this film for what it is – a message to the parents that were only children themselves during the first feature. One day, no matter how many treasured moments you’ve accrued with your child, no matter how much of yourself you’ve invested in their own growth and happiness, you’ll have to let go. It will be hard for all of the reasons mentioned above, but they will dictate when the time is right and you’ll have to accept it.
As such, Toy Story 3 transcends traditional ‘reviewability’. It swings for the fences with its ambitions and manages to hit the stratosphere. Calling it a 5/5 film is an understatement, and professional critics pretty much agree across the board. It will entertain the kids and give pause to adults, have some tissues ready on the counter by the sofa just in case. Toy Story 3 will break your heart, but you will be unimaginably thankful for it.