MOVIE REVIEW: Toy Story 3

TOY STORY 3-- 5 STARS

"Perfection" is a term that is thrown around far too often and has very few true definitions.  Sumptuous tasting preparations from chefs are tagged with the term when everyone has a different taste for food.  A baseball pitcher dealing 27 up and 27 down without a hit, error, or walk earns a "perfect" game.  Boxer Rocky Marciano retired with a undefeated 49-0 professional record.  A high-scoring figure skating program, a well-executed gymnastic routine, or a 100% correct spelling test can attain a "perfect" score and garner the label of "perfection."  In any case or example, the occurrence of perfection doesn't happen every day.  In Hollywood, it never happens, unless your name is Pixar.

Since 1995, with the release of the original Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios and its use of computer animation changed the landscape of animated feature films forever.  The company has created and released 11 films.  Every single one of them has opened to #1 at the box office.  Every single one of them has grossed over $300 million dollars or more worldwide.  That's the closest to a resume of perfection that you're going to find in the movie business.  Simply put, Pixar doesn't make bad movies, all while their parent company, Disney, has been chasing for $300 million+ traditional hand-drawn smash hit since 1994's The Lion King in the same amount of time.

Toy Story 3 proudly continues not only the legacy of its own successful film series, but the Pixar dynasty of perfection.  While it's not a perfect film or the best they've ever done (to me that list starts with last year's Up), Toy Story 3 is more than good, (and, with Pixar, we can start inserting the following term:) as usual. The new movie picks up several years after Toy Story 2 where our toy-owner Andy is now a seventeen-year-old departing for college. 

Like any teenager, his favorite toys from his youth have been stuffed in a chest and replaced by a cell phone and a laptop.  The toys, led by Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), know their days are numbered and are worried about their fate of either the attic or the trash.  While Andy decides to keep Woody and take him to college, the rest of his toys (Buzz, cowgirl Jessie, trusty steed Bullseye, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Hamm the piggy bank, Slinky Dog, Rex the dinosaur, the green alien claw worshipers, and a Barbie doll from his little sister) are bagged and mistaken for trash instead of storage in the attic.  Woody rescues them and they end up being sent in a donation box to Sunnydale Daycare.

Upon their arrival, Sunnydale seems like the perfect place to be if you're a toy.  You're taken care of, live among friends, and are played with every day by new and wonderful children.  The toys of Sunnydale, led by Lots-'O-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) and a dashing Ken doll (Michael Keaton), warmly welcome their new additions, but Woody is determined to return to Andy.  Buzz and the rest of his friends decide Sunnydale is their best chance to live on and choose to stay while Woody leaves alone.  Soon after, our toys find out that Sunnydale, Ken, and Lot's-'O-Huggin Bear are not what they all seem to be.  Will Andy, or Woody for that matter, realize his mistake?  What adventures lie in front of them.  I will stop here and not spoil the endless fun and excitement.

The new and old characters are voiced and embodied by a (there I go again) perfect cast of actors and actresses.  Originals Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Wallace "Inconceivable" Shawn (Rex), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), and Estelle Harris (Mrs. Potato Head) are well-matched with Ned Beatty and Michael Keatons's new characters.  In addition, the level of computer animation seems to get better every time.  Surface details, fabrics, and hair all have the depth and subtle real-life imperfections that make them look more and more truly realistic than ever.

Like Pixar's perfect resume of previous films, Toy Story 3 creates and occupies an imaginative world of dazzling detail but, more importantly, tells a poignant story any child (or former child) can identify with.  Pixar excells every time it makes a movie because of their impeccable writing.  Their screenplays and stories are starting to get deservedly recognized at the Academy Award level for combining unmatched creative originality with heartfelt themes that take what seem impossible and make them feel as real as any human story, even if the movie is about a rat, a robot, or an action figure.  They tell stories that don't need the pop-culture references or toliet humor of their fellow computer animation competitors like Shrek.

Toy Story 3's effort to parallel Andy's move from childhood to adulthood with the feeling of retirement and replacement due to age from the toys is expertly woven together.  The movie beautifully creates a combined feeling of closure and new beginnings for its journey, and may require a few tissues for you adults tagging along with the kids.  It is a worthy final chapter to the series, if it truly ends here.  If it makes a gazillion dollars (and it will), we might see, what I feel would be, an unnecessary fourth movie. 

LESSON #1: TOYS ARE A CHILD'S FIRST FRIENDS-- No matter if it's a hand-me-down teddy bear or a sparkling plastic or electronic toy, before a child learns to speak and hang out with us adults, they live in their own world.  Their imagination takes over and their toys are part of the adventure.  Ever kid needs a favorite toy just like they need a good parent.  That creative play and self expression is important.

LESSON #2: TRUST YOUR FRIENDS BECAUSE THEY HAVE YOUR BEST INTEREST IN MIND-- While it's not the first time Woody and Buzz have disagreed and clashed, to paraphrase Jack Johnson, their song is better when they're together.  Both should listen to each other and compromise more often.

LESSON #3: DON'T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER-- Whether it's a seemingly serene daycare center, a strawberry-smelling bear, a handsome man in an ascot, or something with a few scratches on it, the real heart of things big and small, real or fake, bad or good lies on the inside.

LESSON #4: IT IS BETTER TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE-- I cannot give the beauty of this lesson away from the movie, but observe our human boy character Andy and his actions.

LESSON #5: THERE IS A KID INSIDE ALL OF US-- It is utterly impossible not to watch the Toy Story series, or other Pixar efforts, and not be reminded of your own youth and this very lesson.  You can't watch this movie without happily thinking of your own toys and behavior as a kid.

LESSON #6: EVEN THOUGH EVERYONE GROWS UP, NO ONE SHOULD FORGET HOW SPECIAL THEIR YOUTH IS-- No one can slow the passage of time.  Kids are going to grow up and parents, at the same time, are going to have to let them go.  They are going to stop playing with toys, leave home, and become adults.  Those kids-turning-into-adults are going to have to get jobs and someday, hopefully, have their own children.  In any case, no one should turn their back on their youth.  Yes, it's true that we can't stay naive forever and have to let some childlike things go as we age.  However, we shouldn't, at any age, forget how to have fun, play, use our imagination, and, most of all, show unconditional love to those things we care about, real or imagined.