In the history of film, only one studio can be called a “dynasty.” In the 15 plus years since its first release, every single movie they have made has not only been a commercial blockbuster, but a critical darling as well. Their 11 films have averaged $602 million global box office, decimating the average for every other studio. Four of their films are in the 50 highest grossing movies of all time list. Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences instituted the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001, they have received 8 nominations and 5 wins, a nomination every year they had a film released.
The studio is Pixar, and their latest offering, Toy Story 3, upholds every trend set by the studio. In fact, as of this writing, the movie was the fifth highest grossing movie of all time with over $1 billion global box office. It is also only the third animated film to receive an Academy Award Best Picture nomination. For the very few who have never seen the previous Toy Story movies, please do yourself, and all of your loved ones, a favor and run to the nearest store and buy them. These are among the finest family films ever made, and the third, and presumably final, installment of the series is arguably the best of three.
Of course, we have Woody and Buzz and the gang returning to us, but the film, released 11 years after the second movie, takes place as the toys’ owner, Andy, prepares to leave for college. The crew of toys, who by now are as dear to the viewer as old friends, face an uncertain future. What would a young man in college want with a box of his old toys? Through a series of misunderstandings, the toys believe they are going to be donated to Sunnyside Daycare. Only Woody sees the full truth, and has to chase down his friends to try and convince them that they are indeed wanted.
At the daycare, we and the toys are introduced to a new cast of characters. Big Baby, a little girl’s baby doll, Ken, who Barbie immediately falls for, and Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, or Lotso. Lotso is the leader of the daycare. Pixar again demonstrates its extraordinary talent at voice casting. Ned Beatty voices the purple bear and somehow imbues him with equal parts grandfatherly affection and chilling menace. The astute observer will note immediately that with Lotso we have met our villain.
All is not as idyllic at Sunnyside as it first appears. Lotso has established a rigid class structure, and has consolidated power over all the other toys. That Pixar can turn a happy daycare by day into an Orwellian nightmare by night emphasizes the sheer artistry and imagination of the studio. Woody escapes to seek help, and is found by a young girl, Bonnie, whose mother works at the daycare. She takes him home to her room, a light and airy place filled with well-loved toys. Unable to turn his back on his friends, Woody returns to the daycare to rally the toys and engineer a daring escape.
Fans of the series will not be disappointed in the lengthy, superbly executed and written action centerpiece of the film. It successfully pulls in elements from the earlier films, buts forges them into a brand new creation. One thing that sets this climax apart is that for a moment, all of our friends and heroes abandon hope. These are toys, in a computer-animated film, but I dare anyone to not be moved. It is a moment of nobility and solidarity rare in all films these days, but exquisitely done here.
The final scene will remain unspoiled here, but again, Pixar construct every facet of the sequence with such loving devotion to detail and emotional depth that it wrenches the heart while simultaneously filling it with joy. It is a moment of cinematic perfection, wrapping up this trilogy and the stories of these beloved characters so deftly and with so much artistry I am pressed to think of another film series that ended as well.
For fans of Pixar, Toy Story 3 is another home-run. It’s a superb movie, and must-see viewing for pretty much anyone who ever had a beloved toy or a close friend. Pixar are master storytellers and understand that all the technology in the world can only take a movie so far. The story has to take it the rest. The men and women of this remarkable studio are also some of the most daring artists around. It is no secret that I loved this movie, but for me, it did not reach the same dizzying heights of perfection that Wall-E did. With any other studio, I could say with well-founded skepticism that I doubt they ever could match the glory of that film, but with Pixar, never say never.