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"Toy Story 3": Sweet to Threepeat

The third installment is always the one that never seems to really work for a film franchise. Outside of stand-alones like Goldfinger and adaptations like Return of the King, I can’t think of a single “third movie” that didn’t disappoint. Even The Godfather couldn’t pull it off.

So let it be known that Toy Story 3 not only defies the odds, it delivers a story that is just as entertaining and emotionally involving as the first two (if not more so) while bringing the series to a logical and satisfying conclusion.

It’s been ten years since the events of Toy Story 2, and the real world has changed quite a bit. Likewise there have also been “casualties” of a sort in Andy’s Room. Etch, RC, Rocky, Wheezy, Mr. Shark, and most notably Bo are all gone, either broken or sold off. This has left Woody, Buzz, and Jessie at the core of a tightly knit band of survivors, desperately trying to get Andy to take them out of his toy chest and play with them. However, as our story begins, even this has become futile. Andy is going to college, and through a series of mishaps, rescues and misconceptions, big changes are afoot.

Soon our toys find themselves at Sunnyside Daycare, a place Woody believes is nothing more than a sad last stand for washed-up old toys, but everyone else thinks is paradise on Earth. It is run by Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, a cuddly, strawberry-scented teddy with a southern accent who sells it to the castoffs as a sort of retirement home/health spa. Sunnyside, however, is anything but that, as our heroes soon discover at the hands of a bunch of extremely hyperactive three-year-olds. In fact Sunnyside is actually a prison run by a shadowy cabal of toys with an elaborate security system. Soon it’s up to Woody to get everyone out and back to Andy before he leaves for college for good.

From that basic plotline springs a lot of ideas, both familiar and new, on long-time Pixar viewers. Director Lee Unkrich and his screenwriter, Michael Arndt, obviously had a love for the first two Toy Story films and also for “Tin Toy,” the original Lassiter short that inspired the whole franchise. There are little bits and pieces the most stalwart Pixar fan can catch and say, “Hey they’re referencing so and so!” The stuff that is new is surprisingly thoughtful and continues the “post-maturity” period the studio has been in since The Incredibles. The climax of the film presents a problem even these toys can’t escape, and the only choice is to face it head on. It demonstrates how emotionally invested we’ve become with these characters over the past 15 years that you just can’t help almost shedding a tear when it happens.

Once again we have a new villain for this film, one who feels somewhat similar to Toy Story 2‘s Stinky Pete, but far superior. Stinky Pete was probably the weakest link in Toy Story 2 in terms of both development and motivation. That he was the bad guy wasn’t really revealed until the very last reel, and by that point it seemed tacked on and forced. In this film, the villain is revealed in the middle so we have a lot more time to truly loathe him. Like Stinky Pete, he has a back story that has colored his judgment considerably, but it’s more tragic and easier to swallow.

The ending of the film is appropriate, but bittersweet. It serves as a definitive end point while not completely foreclosing the possibility of a Toy Story 4. Like Andy, we’ve been on a journey with these characters since 1995, and its just too hard to let them go for good, but it has to be.

Toy Story 3 is a very, very good film and easily earns a spot in a “Top Five Pixar Films” list. It ends the series on such a high note that it can easily claim to be an equal of its older siblings. In that regard, Pixar has done something very few have achieved, having pulled off the threepeat and shown the naysayers they can actually do it.

Related reviews:
* Toy Story 3: Worth the Wait” by Ian Lueck
* Toy Story 3: The Magic Remains” by Todd DuBois
* Toy Story 3: More Like “Toy Story 2.1″ by Maxie Zeus

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