They must be drinking Holy water down at Pixar Studios, because everything they make is divine. The third installment of the Toy Story franchise might not have seemed like a good idea on paper, coming over ten years after the first two which were so highly cherished, but credit veteran story men John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, and new-to-the-team Michael Arndt (writer of Little Miss Sunshine) for putting together yet another engaging story that continues to push the many themes explored by the two originals while still preserving their charm and wit.
It's been a while since we last saw Andy frolicking with his beloved playthings, and in that time he's grown into a young man on the cusp of adulthood, with little time for toys. As he packs for college, his mom delivers an ultimatum: either he stores the toys in the attic, donates them to the local daycare, or throws them away. After a moment's deliberation, he decides attic, except for Woody, who he opts to take to college as a nostalgic memento. But cue the quick series of mix ups, and the toys find themselves at Sunnyside Daycare, a seemingly idyllic place where they can be played with for eternity. Of course, Sunnyside is not as sunny as its name so suspiciously implies.
What allows the Toy Story movies to continue to resonate after the novelty of the 1995 original concept has worn off is an increasingly direct approach to mature ideas. Issues of neglect and abandonment come to the fore once the toys are dumped. Denial and acceptance clash. Only Woody stubbornly insists on returning to Andy's house when his friends are content to make Sunnyside their new home. “I can't believe you could be so selfish,” he tells them, failing to see his own reflection in the proverbial mirror. Can you really blame him? After all he's been through in the first two movies to evade doom and return to Andy, it's unsurprising that his attachment to the kid is that strong. But the kid isn't a kid. Not anymore. And perhaps having the strength to let go of each other may be the most meaningful and grown up decision either of them could make.
Arndt's script moves swiftly and with purpose. Less time is spent on individual character development (because we already know them so well), and more is devoted to the group collectively. In fact, the one character who may get the most attention is the two-faced villain, who is exposed to harbour a spiteful storm of heartbreak and jealousy behind a huggable exterior. His comic foil, a metrosexual Ken doll voiced with hilarious zest by Michael Keaton, gets a ton of laughs (perhaps a few too many for the liking of the LGTB community). The story whizzes along into the intense final act, before settling into an ending so poignant and emotional it reduced me to a teary mess. They could not have ended this series on a better note. Utter perfection.
A nomination for Animated Feature is locked, as we would expect of Pixar, but the quality of this threequel took many by surprise, and with the reviews it's been getting – in combination with what is sure to be a great money haul – we must consider it a Best Picture contender. Screenplay as well, although the question of Original v. Adapted is very open. Randy Newman can indeed slip in for his musical score, but is unlikely to receive a nod for his end credits tune “We Belong Together”. Sound Editing is possible.
**** out of ****