From its worldview (especially in contrast to Pixar’s latest run of films) to its Randy Newman theme song, “quaint” is perhaps the best word I can think of to describe Pixar’s first and only franchise, Toy Story. And now that Toy Story is in its third installment, there’s little in the way of surprises.
The Toy Story movies are pretty much the Ramones of computer-animated films: They kind of kicked everything off. And while there’s little in the way of deviation from its formula, there doesn’t need to be. Toy Story 3 is slick and professional, but this alone isn’t the reason behind the avalanche of gushing critical praise that’s been heaped upon it. What Toy Story 3 does, it does very well, wrapping childhood nostalgia up inside an adventure yarn. The concerns of growing up, maturing and moving on have here been augmented from the prequels, whereas the underpinnings of adventure that the movie is tethered to—now three movies deep—is beginning to feel a bit too worn.
As far as plot goes, this time around we once again find our usual suspects—including Woody, the pull-string cowboy (Tom Hanks), and futuristic spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)—escaping some dastardly, dangerous situation, all the while trying to make it back to the safety of their owner, Andy (John Morris, Toy Story 2). Here, the toys get donated to a daycare center—lorded over by a dictatorial teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) and his covey of misfit underlings—because Andy’s getting ready to head off to college.
The largest chunk (or at least it seemed that way) of the film’s running time is dedicated to our heroes’ Great Escape-style getaway—so much so that the end of the film feels like never-ending climax. That’s fine if you’re Sting, but otherwise the film peaks too soon and slowly runs out of energy. It’s not that the action is bad—it’s actually quite adeptly handled, especially when compared to the volume of garbage family entertainment out there—it simply goes on longer than it should. I haven’t been this frustrated with a movie limping along and refusing to end since Frodo put off getting on the boat at the end of Return of the King (2003).
But none of this is the film’s real concern. No, like most Pixar offerings, there’s more on the film’s mind besides simple adventure shenanigans. What the film is really about is friendship and growing up, and while it comes nowhere close to creating the same emotional response as Up, last year’s Pixar entry, Toy Story 3 is nevertheless more affecting than its two predecessors. The film’s strongest image—one of friendship in the face of certain death—almost works until you realize there’s no way in Abaddon that they’re knocking off any of these characters. There’s also a gripping final scene involving Andy going all Corinthians and finally putting away childish things that works almost just as well, until you realize Andy’s not—and has never been—much of a character. The emotional response the film wants so badly is never quite earned.
If you have more invested in the Toy Story franchise than I, then you’ll likely agree with the film’s overwhelming adoration. And if you don’t—well, you won’t. The movie is made more for fans, with its in-jokes and references. And for fans, it’s likely to be perfect. Rated G.