If Walt Disney Pictures was kick-started by the tales of a mischievous mouse, then Pixar Animation Studios was surely launched “to infinity and beyond” by the stories it told about some very playful toys back in 1995 when a cowboy named Woody met a space ranger named Buzz and moviegoers fell in love at first sight.
Prior to the original movie, the prospect of watching animated pieces of plastic seemed about as risky as observing the children in our lives open a toy only to find out that the batteries were not included to hold their interest.
Yet with the arrival of Story we quickly learned that not only could Pixar's toys hold our interest in such a way that moved and even thrilled us but also that for this studio in particular, the term CGI translated to creative genius included.
And this first impression continued to be solidified with Pixar again and again – before and after it officially aligned itself with Walt Disney – as their blockbuster box office successes including both Toy Story sequels along with films like Wall-E, Finding Nemo and Up took the studio system by storm.
On the surface and much like the House of Mouse, Pixar perfected the hero's journey Joseph Campbell myth based paradigm right from its Toy Story follow-up A Bug's Life, which served as a family friendly re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and the American remake The Magnificent Seven.
Yet irregardless, their revolutionary redesign of just what it means to deliver high quality animated entertainment infused with an off-the-charts IQ and EQ cannot be diminished in the slightest. Namely, Pixar became one of the most influential studios since Walt Disney. Moreover, their commitment to excellence is perhaps best expressed throughout the company's remarkable Toy Story trilogy.
It's been fifteen years since Woody gave us a big “Andy's Room Welcome” while introducing us to the other toys that belonged to their imaginative owner. Yet immediately in part three, we feel right at ease in the familiar surroundings, even though – (and much like Andy's mom and our beloved toy friends) – we're struck by a twinge of sadness with the realization that the boy in question has become a college bound young man.
Employing a similar structure as the previous films and harking back to some particularly memorable set pieces and gags that crafted the Toy Story universe from Pizza Planet and “the claw” to the inevitable race to home base involving vehicles and/or machines, the movie begins with a bravura fantasy “play” sequence set in the wild west that manages to surpass the daring space opener in the second work.
Shortly into the picture, the gang lands in the toddler room of a local daycare center where they must bear the brunt of rough-housing by out-of-control tots following a misunderstanding and a misadventure that gets them sent back out into the world instead of Andy's attic. Not willing to give in, Woody must try to rally the morale of the troops to remind them that they're not lost or abandoned toys after all.
Facing new challenges including locked doors and reset buttons, the toys are quickly manipulated by some deceptively cuddly looking new acquaintances including voice actor Michael Keaton's dimwitted, scene-stealing take on a lovestruck Ken, whose allegiance to daycare elder Lots-'o-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty) is challenged by his intense attraction to Barbie.
Still it must be said that the film does begin to run out of steam unnecessarily in the overly long final act as unfortunately the longest installment in the trilogy, with a running time that surpasses the briskly paced, superlative original by more than twenty minutes. But ultimately Toy Story 3 wins us over by a bittersweet heartbreaker of an ending destined to make viewers cry harder than we did during Sarah McLachlan's song in 2.
Nonetheless, it rivals the first film in terms of dark intensity as instead of just battling the demented psychopath in training (aka toy-torturer Sid), the gang must overcome their own fears as well as multiple villains and a nerve-wracking finale, which echoes not only the previous two works but also Star Wars, Wall-E and Monster's Inc. as well.
And with this in mind, it's understandable that adults often have a much stronger reaction to Pixar's work than children do with regard to understanding the existential complexities at play on a subtextual level throughout. For while kids simply prefer to watch Toy Story as a hero's journey Pixar adventure, we have a tendency to digest certain jokes, allusions or lessons about interpersonal relationships from a much different emotional place, which the filmmakers take into account from the very first frame.
An all-around stellar piece of filmmaking, even though it's the weakest link in one of American cinema's most beloved trilogies of all time, Toy Story 3 still wraps up the series on precisely the right note.
Understanding that we identify with Woody and Buzz all the more because we feel we've grown with Andy over the past fifteen years, Pixar allows those of us from the "original '95 generation" the opportunity to say goodbye to the characters we've known and loved.
And while amazingly it's nearly as hard to press eject as it is to send a loved one off to college, the experience is further enhanced by knowing full well that -- just like that loved one who'll go on to do great things with age -- these toys will go on to enrich the lives of generations to come.
Or in other words, while the mouse and the toys built two studios respectively, together the house of Disney Pixar has seen fit to help strengthen our homes all the same.
In addition to sprinkling us with a little of Tinker Bell's behind-the-scenes magic via special features included in the release of these three vibrantly eye-popping theatrical quality Blu-rays, the films remind us that regardless of how old we get, it's vital that we never lose our child like sense of wonder, ability to play, dream and remain a true friend to others... whether plastic or human.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.