(No longer in theaters)
Action/Adventure, Animation, Comedy
Darla K. Anderson
Walt Disney Pictures
Jun 18, 2010
With any luck, this summer’s most merchandisable blockbuster, Toy Story 3, will be the last of the Toy Story movies. Yes, there will be pressure on Pixar to squeeze out sequels. But the chances of topping this one are infinitesimal. It’s another paradoxical Pixar beauty: the high-tech ode to the old-fashioned, the vintage, the stuff of childhood fantasy play when kids and not computer programmers supplied the imagination.
I don’t think of the Toy Story pictures as “escapism,” even though they’re rooted in a child’s dream of what happens when the lights go out and the toys come to life. At heart they’re about aging, impermanence, loss, and death. Pixar likely borrowed the premise from Thomas M. Disch’s The Brave Little Toaster: Objects once prized lose their newness and become disposable. But they have spiritual properties, and to discard them carelessly is to dishonor the past that shaped us. It’s almost Buddhist in how it invests all matter with a life force worthy of reverence.
Toy Story 3 has another dimension, probably the upshot of creators John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and director Lee Unkrich’s getting older and having families. The toys—especially the cowboy Woody (with the voice of Tom Hanks)—see the boy who owns them, Andy, through the eyes of parents with kids who are ready to move on. After a wild prologue with Woody and Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear and Joan Cusack’s cowgirl Jessie saving a trainload of orphans from the evil pig mastermind—which comes to a halt when young Andy is called to dinner—we jump a decade ahead. Andy no longer plays with toys; he’s going off to college. His room is being cleared for his younger sister with her MP3 player and computer. Should the toys be stuck in the attic? Donated to Sunnyside, a children’s day-care center? Or left on the curb for the garbage truck? The gang, which includes the sister’s cast-off Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson), is scared by the prospect of all those possibilities.
After mix-ups and chases, they end up at Sunnyside, where the toy who calls the shots is the formidable huggy bear, Lotso, with the great southern stentorian voice of Ned Beatty. Lotso is a character with stature—a toy shattered by abandonment who has purged himself of sentiment. And soon our gang discovers he runs Sunnyside as a kind of prison. The big bald baby doll functions as a spooky enforcer and looks like the Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson in Ed Wood movies. A cymbal-clashing monkey is the prison guard of nightmares. Horror of horrors, Buzz is reprogrammed to be his old pompous self to help Lotso keep everyone in cages. Suddenly, thrillingly, Toy Story 3 becomes a prison-break movie.
As usual with Pixar, the little things win your heart, like Woody escaping out the bathroom window but pausing to put down a sheet of toilet paper before stepping on the seat. At Sunnyside, Barbie meets Ken (Michael Keaton), and all our culture’s Ken-is-gay jokes get a new spin: He’s a metrosexual elated at finding someone to whom he can show off his disco wardrobe. The gags are all of a piece, right up to the forlorn yet enchanting finale.Kids will love Toy Story 3 for its cliff-hangers and slapstick spills. But for grown-ups, the film will touch something deeper: the heartfelt wish that childhood memories will never fade. This lovely, wistful movie weaves together our joyful fantasies of the past, the ones that helped form us, and our darker fears of being forgotten—and offers hope that we can somehow reconcile those poles of existence for ourselves. The slight autumnal chill makes the warmth of summer all the sweeter.