WFTB Score: 16/20**
The plot: The day had to come: Andy, faithful owner of Woody, Buzz and his assorted other toys, is going to college. Although Woody is chosen to go with him, the others are mistakenly put out with the rubbish, with the result that they all end up in a Day Care centre where the resident toys’ warm welcome hides a sinister ulterior motive. Woody escapes and has the option of living a comfortable life with a loving new owner; but the sheriff feels honour-bound to ride to the rescue one last time.
Woody (voiced, as always, by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) have become so desperate for Andy to play with him that he and the gang resort to stealing his phone for attention. Andy, however, is all grown up and just days away from going to college, so the plan is doomed to failure; worse, Andy is forced into a tidy-up by his mother and all the toys bar Woody are put in a bin liner and almost thrown out, rather than being put in the attic.
The toys manage to escape, but the close shave convinces them that they have no place in Andy’s home; and when they get dropped off at the Sunnyside Day Care centre, it seems to be the best outcome all round, especially since the centre seems to be the equivalent of Toy Paradise. Sunnyside’s incumbent toys – the cutesy Lotso’ Hugging bear (Ned Beatty), his right-hand metrosexual man (and Barbie’s best friend) Ken (Michael Keaton), and the muscle, Big Baby – are carefully played with and adored, so Andy’s toys, tired of being abandoned, decide to stay put; only Woody, whom Andy had decided to take to college, believes that he owes it to his owner to return, though his escape only gets as far as the cosy bedroom of Bonnie, the daughter of the woman who runs the nursery.
There, he learns the terrible truth of Sunnyside: Lotso may well smell of strawberries, but underneath the cuddly exterior there’s a bitter and cynical mind. For while Lotso and his friends get all the attention, they need victims such as Jesse, Rex and Slinky to occupy the destructive toddlers who run riot in the Caterpillar room from where there is seemingly no escape. Buzz also discovers the secret, but at a cost: he is re-programmed and becomes his friends’ ruthless jailer. Luckily, Woody hears about the truth of Sunnyside just in time to stage a rescue, although the prison break is a complex operation. Even if they can get free of the building, Lotso’s wrath makes sure that the road back to Andy’s is a more dangerous adventure than anything they’ve encountered before.
Because Woody, Buzz, Hamm, Rex, the Potato Heads, Slinky, Jesse, Bullseye and the three-eyed aliens are all such well-drawn characters (in every sense, not least the wonderful voice acting from the whole cast), it’s hugely tempting to look at Toy Story 3, go ‘aah, it’s good to see the gang again’ and give the movie a free ride. But it’s my duty to be objective, and as such I have to say that Toy Story 3 is an absolute mixture of absence making the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeding – not contempt, not at all, but a little bit of déjà vu. Whether it’s the theme of the child growing older and moving on, Woody getting separated from his colleagues, or any one of the film’s insanely daring rescues/escapes, it has been seen before in either Toy Story, Toy Story 2, or both, though here the tension is at times unbearable, making you wonder if Pixar are actually going to do the unthinkable.
Against that, there’s the massive counterweight that Pixar do this kind of thing so damn well. And I don’t mean technically, though as always you instantly forget that you’re watching pixels, and there’s an obvious step up from the last film in the level of the animation; no, I mean in terms of telling the story, as the film efficiently goes about its business whilst ratcheting up both the sense of danger and the sentiment. Although there’s nothing quite as heart-wrenching as Jessie’s song to be found here, there’s still plenty to tug at the heartstrings, and moments of superb physical comedy too, such as when Mr Potato Head is briefly transformed into the floppy, Dali-esque Mr Tortilla Head. The film alternates between jokes and tender moments (‘Spanish’ Buzz’s wooing of Jessie showcases both nicely) with consummate ease.
More importantly, perhaps, the new toys are all delightful, even the boo-hiss Lotso; Bonnie’s outrageous thesp toy Mr Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) is particularly good fun, and of course the most is made of Ken’s identity crisis (‘I am NOT a girl’s toy!’ he says, protesting too much). Toy Story 3 is the product of a team that clearly love their work and know what they’re doing, and while nothing can bring back the amazement caused by the original, this second sequel doesn‘t drag for a second.
Though it may be an act of the utmost naïveté, I don’t believe Pixar would’ve made Toy Story 3 if their only reason for doing so was to make money. The love shown by the creators for the characters is real, even if it understandably finally tips over into indulgence as Andy says a long goodbye to his toys (I think it’s officially called a Return of the King ending). But you can’t really complain about that, because Pixar have created a set of lovely characters and treated them well: quite right too, since they’ve treated Pixar very nicely in return. Toy Story 3 really has to be the last hurrah for Woody and his pals, but so long as the toys are now put away this is a very funny, touching and impressive way for the crew to sign off***.
NOTES: 1Just to be clear, I saw the 2D version of the film, and while I can see that bits of the film would have looked fabulous in 3D, it’s the immersion offered by the story and the characters that really counts.
2This was originally scored a 14 on the basis of a single viewing at the pictures. Multiple home viewings (thanks to an engrossed small child) have convinced me that the film is rather better than that; specifically in respect of its writing, which tells a potentially complex story with great clarity and a deft touch for foreshadowing and callbacks. On the other hand, I’ve now seen the film so many times I’ve noticed one big flaw: Jessie and Buzz have been around each other for 10 years and he’s still nervously courting her?
3This whole last paragraph was quite obviously written before any inkling that Toy Story 4 would be made, as indeed it is. Cash cows must be milked, I suppose.