Up until that moment, the story’s toy heroes had gone through hell in order to belong, to find a home and fulfill their destiny, and now they’ve done it. But the scene belongs to their owner, Andy, who is at the crossroads of his life, ready to say goodbye not only to the comforts of home but also to the joys of childhood. Nostalgia, letting go, a rite of passage – for the characters as well as the audience, the blend is bittersweet.
Between “Toy Story 2” and “Toy Story 3”, a number of good things happened. Animation master hatched the idea for the final sequel, Lee Unkrich honed his directorial gifts with three Pixar studio hits, and Michael Arndt found fame writing “Little Miss Sunshine”. But negative things happened too, such as America’s descent into a period of recession, making it a receptive ground for this movie’s theme of usefulness and obsolescence. Until today, there are legions of employed people out there living in fear of the red slip or the rude jolt of restructuring. The plight of Andy’s endangered toys is not much different from their own.
Once loved and appreciated, the toys (job description: give joy), find themselves literally being sacked. After a series of fateful errors, they end up under two new managements: Sunnyside day care center’s destructive horde of 2-year-olds during the day, and at night, a strawberry-colored stuffed bear and his sinister band of thugs.
Lasseter, Unkrich, Arndt and their teams of animators then weave their magic, crafting a thrilling adventure story of the toys’ escape from their prison, as engrossing as the best action movies from any major studio. The difference is that these plastic and polyester stuffs have more heart than your usual pumped-up and ripped superheroes, and can act and ham it better than most of them.
That is because the toy characters are sharply drawn, each one assigned its own dossier, quirks and emotional baggage. The “Toy Story” mainstays such as Cowboy Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie the Cowgirl and the Potato Heads are joined by new characters such as godfather Lotso and, surprise, Barbie and Ken. The inclusion of Barbie is not an unlikely choice because after all, she is the collectible of collectibles. Every toy gets its turn to shine — to be endearing, witty, plain silly or even menacing — and when it does, so does the actor who lends the voice, with special mention to Ned Beatty as sadistic Lotso.
As “Toy Story 3” hurtles to its rousing finale, one can understand why in some movie theaters, audiences cheered and gave it a standing ovation. Pixar rules. And could somebody lend the big guy a hanky, please. If the moviegoers had roses and lollipops, they’d be tossing them to the screen as the credits rolled.
“Toy Story 3” contains a few images that might be terrifying for some of the youngest kids: an overgrown baby doll in diapers who is one of the thugs; a ghostly cymbal-clapping monkey straight from “Phantom of the Opera”; and visions of hell in the form of gigantic toy shredders and seething incinerators. With the regular home screen, this concern is not as great, but it may still be wise to guide the kids on the fine points of the nerve-wracking scenes.
DVD and Blue-ray extra features
The DVD and Blu-ray releases of the highest grossing animated feature ever offer a load of features that should please, as usual, both young and old. For both versions, you can look forward to the animated short “Day and Night” that preceded the movie; “Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs” from the Space Station (the real thing, no less!); and “Alex Syntek,” the Mexican music video for the “pasa doble” dance number “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
Exclusively for Blu-ray buyers are other exciting features including: “Goodbye Andy,” a deeper look into the character design, acting and animation in the movie’s defining scene; “Ken’s Dating Tips and Lotso Commercials;” and a clip of how “Dancing With the Stars” idols Tony Dovolani and Cheryl Burke choreographed the hot dance finale. A great way to usher in the holiday season.