When Toy Story 3 was announced, I had no idea it was the exact thing I needed. It had been more than ten years since Toy Story 2, and I thought that these two movies were two perfect gifts from the gods of Hollywood. They were two absolute gems in the early days of a partnership between Pixar and Disney. This partnership produced similar gems in the 2000’s – The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, to name a few – and I didn’t know how it could possibly get any better. But in my opinion, Toy Story 3 topped them all. It’s a masterwork of animation and storytelling, bolstered by an amazing cast. While I think that each Toy Story film is perfect, I think for a few reasons that this one is more perfect than the two that preceded it – allow me to explain why.
Purgatory, Hell, Heaven: Divine Animated Comedy
Toy Story 3 has very apparent and very deliberate symbolism that parallels Dante’s Divine Comedy – a journey through Purgatory, the Inferno, and Paradise. This is something that probably doesn’t need to be said, since all the symbols are so apparent, but hey, let’s go through them anyway.
When the Toys first arrive in Sunnyside they discover a structured world in which their good behavior and tolerance in suffering will eventually result in some kind of salvation. Its lower ranks are miserable and its upper ranks… seem happy? However the clear difference is that Purgatory is a divine creation whereas Sunnyside is of Lotso’s design.
Then, there’s the most obvious symbolism – Hell. A giant, miserable, landfill. It’s one of the most terrifying shots in any kids movie. When I watched this movie for the first time, I knew in the back of my mind that this would all be perfectly fine, and that the toys would survive, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the fear that this sequence instills. I think that the thing which the child portion of the audience to comprehend about this sequence is the fact that all the toys, for a brief moment, accept their death. For me, no sequence in any movie is as emotional, terrifying, or sad.
And the Inferno allegory goes beyond fire and suffering. Dante tells us that the bottom circle in hell holds famous traitors like Judas Iscariot and Brutus, whose eternal punishment is to be eaten by Satan forever. Compare this with Lotso, who is to be attached to the front of a dump truck for as long as he lives.
The toys are rescued by
God the Little Green Men the Claw, and taken back to Bonnie’s house. Bonnie’s house is beautiful, with a bucolic green yard and other toys who they get along with. As Andy hands the toys over to Bonnie, it feels as though these Toys are being rewarded for their loyalty over their lifetime. And as Andy rides off in his car, it feels…. heavenly. A happy ending for our good heroes.
The Perfect Ending/Is a Sequel a Risk?
All roughly around the time, Cars 3, The Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 4 were announced. The announcement of Cars 3 was met with groans – though the merchandise might have been profitable and the first film enjoyable, Cars 2 was reviled, to put it gently. Alternatively, the news regarding the Incredibles 2 was welcomed like a gift from Heaven. The first Incredibles had been so wonderful that a sequel was considered LONG overdue. Toy Story 4 was a little more difficult to quantify.
I think back to Seinfeld – Jerry Seinfeld compared the end of his show to the end of the Beatles, explaining the art of leaving at the right time. I think of other things like Scrubs or the career of NFL quarterback Brett Favre which missed clear opportunities to go out on top. (As an aside, I think that this idea is particularly relevant given the upcoming release of the eighth Fast and Furious movie, after the previous one would have given a beautiful and sentimental sendoff to the series.) Things are remembered more fondly when they’re good all the way through. Note that you hear people say “Scrubs is great, as long as you don’t watch the last season,” whereas nobody says that about Seinfeld. Does that make Scrubs a worse show? While it doesn’t take away the highs that earlier seasons reached, it does seem to impede on the overall product. But I digress.
What I mean to say is that Toy Story 4 is a huge gamble – there’s a high risk that Toy Story 4 could undo the perfection that each Toy Story film has left in its wake. The series is perfect right now. Each installment is utterly sublime. Some people joke about Toy Story 2 not being that good, but they’re wrong, that movie is a classic. And so is this one.
And here is a perfect ending. Andy passes on his toys to a new owner who will love and appreciate them, and he rides off into the sunset as the toys relish in their new lives and their new friends.
That being said, Toy Story 4 promises to show us what happened with Bo Peep, a thread Toy Story 3 mentioned but didn’t elaborate on. Additionally, nothing but good things have been said about the two short sequels since its release – a Halloween themed Toy Story of Terror and a dinosaur-inspired Toy Story that Time Forgot. But more than this, it’s necessary to remember that John Lasseter and company wouldn’t likely start this project if they knew it wouldn’t be as good.
This movie is full of small moments with tremendous emotion. A scene early in the movie when Andy is sorting his toys and he holds Buzz and Woody for a split second trying to decide what to do with them and he puts Buzz in the attic-bound trash bag and he puts Woody in the college-bound box – that moment is loaded with emotional implications – the gang is being split up, Andy loves Woody more than he loves Buzz. How about when Woody leaves the gang in a huff and has to tell Bullseye to stay behind? How about when they play “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and it ends on the phrase “Our friendship will never die!” but the music has stopped so we just have the dissonant echo on the word “die?” That’s creepy and heartbreaking. How about Chuckles the Clown’s lament in which he explains what happened to him and Lotso and big baby? Or when they descend into the depths of the trash receptacle?
But this movie has just as many emotional highs as it has moments of sadness. How about that absolute glee in the opening scene, or the beautiful end of the last scene, or when Big Baby picks up Lotso and throws him in the trash? There’s just so much to love about this movie. Compare the disonant use of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” with the happy, upbeat “We Belong Together,” at the end credits.
Emotion is what Pixar does best. Sure, yes, there films are beautifully animated and have wonderful vocal performances, but that’s not their chief selling point. We love Up for its call to adventure, we love Wall-E for its lovable characters, and we love Inside Out for its understanding of human emotion. Toy Story has taught children to love their toys, and it has taught the value of friendship above all things, and has taught us to go to infinity and beyond.
Favorite Scene(s): I don’t know, how about GODDAMN ALL OF THEM?! I wouldn’t even know where to start!
But let’s start at the beginning. The opening scene where it’s Andy playing with his toys is a callback to the start of the first film in which Woody is an impressive sheriff who stops Ham and Mr. Potato Head. Now, there are more toys (and a bigger budget) so we can see playtime not as outsiders would see it, but as Andy and his toys would see it. And we see all the delight and hilarity of a child’s imagination.
Woody’s acrobatic sequences are also amazing to see. When he tries to escape Sunnyside the first time, and the second time when he escapes with the rest of the toys – these scenes prove that Toy Story 3 isn’t just raw emotion, it’s smart, well-choreographed action as well.
And I would be a fool not to mention the hilarious chemistry between Ken and Barbie during Ken’s little fashion show and Barbie’s subsequent interrogation is a delight.
And of course, there’s the emotional roller-coaster of the last few scenes. But I’ve said enough about those.
Favorite Quote: What could I possibly pick, other than the movie’s final words – Andy’s quiet “Thanks, guys.” And Woody’s soft “So long, partner.”
Favorite Performance: Earlier in this list, this has usually been an easy pick. It’s easy to say that Chris Evans had the best performance in Snowpiercer or that Harrison Ford had the best performance in The Empire Strikes Back, because there’s a physical element – we can see how these actors carry themselves as their characters and how they wear each emotion on the face. Not so with animated films – each performance lives and dies by its voice. And Toy Story 3 was loaded with great voice performances.
There are so many actors in this star-studded cast, they’re all worth mentioning. That being said, let me just go through some of the stand-outs. Among the newcomers, there’s living legend Michael Keaton who makes the Barbie Ken a hilarious and farcical pretty-boy villain, there’s Kristen Schaal who brings the quirky humor she does better than anyone, and Ned Beatty who played a folksy-but-menacing mayor so well he basically reprised his role for another animated classic the following year (spoiler alert: it’s this one). And though he’s only in the movie for a short time, I really like the gritty, jaded voice of the Chatter Telephone who tells Woody how to escape.
But this movie is all about the people who have stayed with the franchise throughout the years. There’s Tom Hanks whose voice is basically one of the most wonderful things in American cinema, or Tim Allen who flips between Buzz’s kind and friendly voice and the Space Ranger who doesn’t know he’s a toy. And there’s Joan Cusack and Wallace Shawn and Don Rickles and Pixar’s favorite John Ratzenburger and so many others. But if we’re talking about a great recurring performance, it’s worth mentioning John Morris. Don’t recognize that name? He was the child actor who played Andy in the first two films, and came back for this installment, more than ten years later. Morris’ voice carries the same emotion one would expect from a young man who has outgrown his toys but still has a tremendous fondness for them. And the way his voice cracks on his final line; “Thanks, guys,” it has all the heavy emotion as one would expect from a boy transitioning into college, moving away from home, and effectively leaving behind the life he has known up to that point.
Academy Awards/Nominations: In terms of nominations, this was nominated for Best Sound Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. As I mentioned when I started this series, Toy Story 3, Inception, and The Social Network – unquestionably three of this decade’s best films – were all nominated for Best Picture and all lost to grade-a oscarbait The King’s Speech. That being said, Toy Story 3 did win Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. The Best Animated Feature isn’t exactly something to sneeze at either, as it was up against How to Train Your Dragon, an animated classic in its own right. As for Randy Newman’s “We Belong Together,” I’ve frequently referenced Cracked.com’s idea of “The Oscars Circle of Ineptitude” – was the Academy just trying to make up not giving Randy Newman an Oscar for “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” back in 1995? Eh, who knows. Either way, great song.
Fun Fact: I scrolled through fun facts, but there was no way I could pick any fun fact but this one from IMDb: “Tom Hanks and Tim Allen insisted that they record their lines together, which they had previously done for one day during the making of the original Toy Story (1995), but which is rarely done with animated films. They loved the chemistry their characters shared on-screen.” I love that and I think it’s beautiful – it really speaks to the theme of friendship that runs throughout the films.
If you like this, also check out: I don’t know. There aren’t really any animated pictures that get remotely close to topping this. So with that in mind, I’ll just list a few of my favorite non-Pixar non-Disney animated films from the 2010s: Rango, Kubo and the Two Strings, How to Train Your Dragon, and The Lego Movie. They all manage to capture some of the emotional highs and the beautiful animation that we see in the Toy Story series.
Toy Story 3 is a delightful affair. In 1995, the original film changed animation by introducing Hollywood to a new style of animation, and it was seemingly better than anything we had ever seen. Fifteen years later, Toy Story 3 perfected it. When the 2010s are all said and done, we will look at this movie as certainly the best animated film of the decade, and probably one of the best films of the decade. Other movies do similar things, but none of them does it quite as well.