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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Review: Toy Story 3

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains some spoilers. You have been duly warned.
Toy Story 3 hits all the right emotional notes, and the storyline both complements and completes the curve set in motion when Toy Story stole our hearts way back in 1995. Critics have been over the moon for this latest (last?) installment in the Toy Story series, and with good reason. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, voicing Woody and Buzz Lightyear, respectively, never had better roles to play than these animated best pals, and the rest of the cast, both old familiar characters and a few new faces, supports them nicely.
And yet, I can’t help but think that the couple of negative reviews I’ve read of Toy Story 3 have some valid points to make; they’re points, in fact, that popped into my head even as I was watching the film, try though I might to brush them aside like annoying flies buzzing around my pie at a picnic. The question is, do a few flies spoil the overall experience of a delightful picnic on a sunny afternoon? Nah, not for me.

When Pixar made Toy Story 2, it didn’t seem there was any need for a sequel to a story about fear of rejection, loyalty and friendship that seemed to come full circle when Woody and Buzz buried the hatchet of jealousy and learned what it meant to be best friends. So Toy Story 2, until we saw it, felt like another case of a studio merely capitalizing on a wildly successful hit to sell more movie tickets and merchandise. But as it turned out, Toy Story 2 wasn’t just a cheesy sequel, it was its own story, and it was pretty brilliant in its own right.
Both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 dealt with similar themes of fear of rejection, jealousy and friendship while also tossing in some harrowing escape and chase sequences, and Toy Story 3, well, it also deals with similar ideas. So on the surface, it’s easy enough to dismiss Toy Story 3 as just a rehash of old, safe, familiar ideas with old, safe familiar characters. But where Toy Story dealt with Woody’s fear of being replaced by a shinier toy with more cool gadgets, and Toy Story 2 dealt with Woody having to decide between loyalty to his new friends at the expense of abandoning his old gang, in both those stories it was, ultimately, about Woody deciding that the most important thing was what was best for Andy, because in the end, Woody and the gang were always Andy’s Toys, and that trumped everything else.
In Toy Story 3, we, along with Andy’s Toys, are dealing with an emotional component that was touched on with the Jessie storyline in Toy Story 2: What happens to a toy when its owner grows up? It was a savvy thing to include in Toy Story 2, because it’s a theme that plays to the emotional chord in all of us about growing older. Most kids seeing these films, I think, view them more purely from the level of watching likable characters having adventures, and connect to the ideas that are most accessible to them: Friendship. Loyalty. Bravery. Adventure.
When my own kids play with their Toy Story toys, they aren’t talking about or acting through ideas of abandonment, or even loyalty, really; it’s the fun and adventure and action of the films that they tend to relate to — which is perfectly appropriate, because they are kids connecting to an animated film on a kids’ level. The genius of the Toy Story films is about how it connects just as well with adults, but in a very different way.
We adults — those of us getting paid to review them and those who just enjoy watching these films alone or with their own kids — view these stories from both ends of the spectrum; we can connect to the action and fun and adventure our kids see in the films, and, sure, if we’re paying attention we can also derive some pleasure from the homages to Miyazaki or Cool Hand Luke or The Great Escape or what have you.
But it’s the emotional core of the stories, especially in Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, that resonate most deeply with us because when we watch them, we’re getting hit on multiple emotional fronts: What it was like to be a kid with a toy you loved. What it felt like to lose a special toy, or to find a toy you thought had been lost forever. That special toy you left behind when you grew up, that you still think about from time to time — or perhaps that old stuffed bear hiding in a box on a closet shelf, to be brought out only in moments when we’re most in need of the comfort and safety we felt in childhood. And most especially, the brevity of childhood, how it seems at the time it will last an eternity, but is gone in the blink of an eye.
With the hindsight granted by our years of adulthood, when we watch Toy Story 3, we’re also looking back at the children we were and, if we have children ourselves, looking at them with a glimpse of what’s to come. We know, as the grownups, that in the end it’s not just the toys who will be abandoned when their owners grow up and move on into their own adult lives; it’s we, their parents — who have loved and cared for our children as loyally as Woody cared for Andy — who will, ultimately, have to face our little ones moving on and leaving us behind, packing us away into their own emotional attics. There may be grandchildren down the road who will dust us off and play with us again, but we can never have THIS special child stay young and play with us forever. As Stevie Nicks said, “Time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I’m getting older, too.” And so are you.
This is the real heart of the Toy Story films, especially Toy Story 3, and this is why, even if the plots seem overly familiar and some of the characters feel like other characters we’ve seen before, it still works. When we’re watching Andy pack his things away, see him upset when he thinks his mother threw away the beloved toys he’d intended to keep, and, especially, when we see him at the end, playing with Woody and the gang one last time before passing them on to a new owner who will love and play and care for them as he no longer can, we are moved to tears, even if we don’t want to be. We see Andy saying goodbye to his own childhood and, in our heads and in our hearts, we say goodbye to our own childhoods … and, we see ourselves, in the not too distant future, watching own children say goodbye to theirs.
Bravo, Pixar. Thanks for Woody, Buzz, and all of Andy’s gang. May they live on in the hearts of kids of all ages forever and ever, and long may we ride like the wind.

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