Very few things are universal among people these days, but I contend that one thing will always be the same. As an adult, you watch movies that you loved as a kid, and find that they are not nearly as good as you remembered them to be. This can be a crushing feeling, and not without good reason. You loved these films, you were attached to them, and now you find out that you were merely suckered in by lame jokes and flashy visuals.
This is why I was worried when I looked back at 1995’s Toy Story and 1999’s Toy Story 2 in preparation for the recent opening of what will likely be the final film in the franchise, Toy Story 3. What Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, and E.T. are to some, Toy Story is to me. I was born only a year before the first film came out, and I immediately became attached to it. I got all of the merchandise (and there wasn’t a lot), and watched our VHS copy over and over again. I adored the sequel just as much, but I didn’t watch them for years. They stayed ingrained in my memory as objects of my childhood that I never thought could ever be tainted or ruined.
After revisiting them, I am proud to say that they cannot. Both films stand out as sharp, funny, exciting, and moving. They have complex themes, emotional stories, and rich characters, fleshed out as well as a plastic plaything can be. They are immensely enjoyable to watch, and even more so when you aren’t a child. Even so, I was nervous about Toy Story 3. Yes, Pixar had never made a truly bad film, but the ends of trilogies don’t exactly have good track records. The idea of making a third film initially screamed that they were pressured to make it by money-grubbing Disney, and that made me unhappy. Then, of course, I watched it.
The film starts out with a brilliantly realized sequence that shows us playtime from the perspective of a toy. That scene, and the opening montage, are great reminders of who the characters are, both human and toy. The montage of home movies is devastatingly touching for fans of the first two films, especially with the added bonus of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” backing it up. The way that it ends, and the scene that it transitions in to, are crushing even if you hadn’t seen the first two films. They set everything up perfectly on an emotional level, only to bring us right back down into poignant reflection on our own mortality.
In fact, the entire film is basically a meditation on death and the afterlife. The toys see a lifetime in the attic as an acceptable fate. There are books to read, games to play, and each other to pass the time, not to mention the probability that Andy would give them to his children to play with. I suppose this makes the attic “heaven” for toys. If it is, then the daycare where they eventually end up is purgatory. They start out being tortured and beaten, but if they pay their dues, they can sit in the lap of luxury. I won’t say anything about what toy hell would be, as the film makes that abundantly clear, but their eventual fate probably falls under the category of reincarnation.
As far as the themes of the trilogy go, Toy Story 3 fits right in. Again, we have the ideas of loss, betrayal, and loyalty, as well as the new themes of dignity, love, growing up and letting go. It’s very mature, even by Pixar’s standards. The film was literally darker than the others, with a great deal of it taking place at night. I’ve heard at least one critic complain that the dialogue wasn’t as sharp this time around, but I’ll argue that that’s a good thing. This and Up were the first Pixar films that I truly felt were made for adults. The jokes in the film were specifically to make sure that kids were entertained, instead of the other way around. In any other film of this nature, the whole thing would have been for kids, with a few jokes that only the adults would get. Not here.
I loved the voice acting. Tom Hanks gives Woody such a vibrant personality, such a soul, that it’s impossible not to feel for him. Ned Beatty was astounding as Lotso, and his story was fascinating. Amazingly, this is true for every other character as well. I found them one-hundred-percent believable, and I truly cared about their circumstances. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I saw the film twice in two days, and I cried at the end of both showings. Pixar has perfected the art of making characters that people care about. Not only that, but the characters are really good. All of them are consistent with the other films. Jessie is very anxious about what Andy does at the beginning of the film, and based on her backstory from 2, we know that those moments are completely real. All of the characters are so distinct, whereas, in another film, the ensemble would probably all be clones of one another, identifiable only by differences in their appearances. Once again, not here.
Someday, when I’m older, I’m going to look back on the Toy Story trilogy. I guarantee, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they will be as good as ever. I won’t watch them and wonder why I loved them so much. I don’t think that anyone will. From beginning to end, the franchise is perfect. I’ll show it to my kids, they’ll show it to their’s and so on. And I know that I won’t be the only one to do this. All three films will last, in our hearts and minds, to infinity and beyond.