I try to remain as unbiased as I can in my writing and only occasionally do I believe I’ve faltered. This is one of those occasions because Toy Story 3 is very special to me. Being born in 1997, I have grown up alongside PIXAR and, as a child, Toy Story was my go-to film. Even as I grew older and entered my teenage years I found myself returning to it and its sequel time after time whenever I was in need of some comfort. Toy Story 3 marked the first time that something I had been emotionally invested in since childhood came to an end. Wow, what an end it was.
We follow Buzz, Woody and the gang as they are accidentally donated to Sunnyside Daycare, mere days before Andy is due to leave for college. Woody, determined to remain by his side, attempts to return home but it picked up by a girl named Bonnie whose toys inform Woody that Sunnyside is not all sunshine and rainbows. He must choose between abandoning his friends for Andy or saving them. This is the darkest of PIXAR’s films so far in both colour and theme. The entirety of the third act takes place at night, as do the flashbacks, not to mention the time spent in bags and boxes. That is the haunting irony of Sunnyside Daycare, which should mark a delightfully pleasant retirement for Andy’s toys but is more like a war zone. Instead of remaining in the Butterfly Room with the 6 year olds, they are taken to the Caterpillar room where the 4 year olds dwell. Their first playtime in years ends with them covered in paint and drool in a blatant disregard for the age suggestions on their original packaging. I was never like these children, always taking great care with my toys, so to see them treated this way is heartbreaking. It may also be the most accurate depiction of children in children’s media.
It may seem like the children will end up as the antagonists but no, it’s much much worse. Lotso-Huggin’ Bear is a vindictive plush toy who was “abandoned” by his owner and now rules over Sunnyside with an iron fist. As Ken Doll so astutely observes, Lotso has transformed Sunnyside into a pyramid and placed himself on top. As a result, Toy Story 3 sort of becomes about overthrowing an unjust system of government which, after Wall-E, leads me to wonder how the people at PIXAR feel about The System. Of course, this is a children’s film, so Lotso eventually gets his comeuppance but not before the most gut-wrenching betrayal I’ve ever witnessed. The films climax takes place at a landfill where it seems as if our heroes are headed for certain destruction via a massive furnace. Lotso has the chance to save them but instead chooses to save only himself, leaving everybody else to continue their final journey. Inevitably they do not perish but we still have to sit through a scene where they embrace their own mortality and their end. This may be the darkest thing that PIXAR has ever done and I commend them for it. As a company, they have never spoken down to children and, in this moment, they are treating the children as adults. It shows a real sign of respect on PIXARs behalf for their young audience.
As the final film in a trilogy, Toy Story 3 wraps up the story perfectly. I’ve spoken before about the importance of payoff and how rewarding it is for longtime fans of a franchise. It’s especially prevalent in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and in moments of Avengers Endgame but Toy Story 3 might outshine both of them. On a surface level, we get to witness the end of these characters’ arcs but it runs deeper than that. Parts of the film like Buzz’s escape from the Caterpillar Room and the entire opening sequence directly parallel moments in previous instalments. However the best homage to Toy Storys past lie in the score. Almost every single track from the first 2 films make one final return here. There’s Soldiers Mission, Woody’s Roundup and the most heart-wrenching of all You’ve Got a Friend in Me. The score can make or break a film. It’s there to illicit certain reactions and emotions but if it doesn’t do that, the film doesn’t come across the same. The music is designed to emotionally manipulate you- that’s its job- and Toy Story 3 uses that to its advantage. I must have seen this movie at least once a year since it was released and I have wept every single time. Even re-watching it for this piece, knowing that the story continues, I can’t seem to help myself. Nostalgia is a very powerful emotion and it will win me over every single time. The difference in detail between the CGI of this film and the CGI of the original Toy Story is enough to blow me away.
My generation are the last to witness this franchise upon release. Current and future generations are able to sit through the entire thing in the space of an afternoon. They won’t be impacted in exactly the same way but I wonder if they will be impacted in some way. That’s the thing about PIXAR- their pieces are timeless. They aren’t designed to appeal to one ausdience in the here and now, but to every audience of every age. I know that children will watch Toy Story 3 in the years to come and that they might consider it just another PIXAR film but it will continue to stick with me
To Infinity and Beyond…