It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Pixar introduced the world to computer animated feature films. The original Toy Story kicked off the CG animation craze. But sometimes lost in the historical aspects is the fact that is was a really great movie in its own right. The second film topped the first, and earned the Golden Globe award for Best Picture — the last animated movie to win that prize. Toy Story 3, in some ways, is the best of the three: darker, deeper, more exciting, and more heart-rending. Pixar’s eleventh straight hit will move audiences — kids and especially adults — more than just about any other animated film in recent times.

Andy is just a few days away from leaving for college. Woody, Buzz, and the gang knew this day was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier. When they end up accidentally donated to a daycare, they have to decide whether to enjoy their new life where there is always someone new to play with them and never any heartache, or stay loyal to Andy even if it means they’re stored in the attic.

Normally I say that you can’t expect much more than you got in the original from a sequel in terms of animation, but that only applies when they come out within a few years of each other. The last Toy Story film was over a decade ago. And while this still feels like the Toy Story we know and love, there’s been a definite upgrade. More fluid movements, more expressive facial expressions (most noticeable on the humans), and much more elaborate scenes and setpieces set this outing apart. The original characters are so ingrained in pop culture that I’m sure even more care than usual was put into the new character designs. All are well done and fit in nicely. The main new character, a huggable pink bear named Lotso, is especially fun — not to mention marketable!

Uncharacteristically for Pixar, I wasn’t that thrilled with some of the voicing choices made. Ned Beatty is great as Lotso, though having a big pink bear that smells like strawberries be voiced by a deep sounding, southern accented male is an unstereotypical decision. Not wrong, just unexpected. It just then seems like an odd choice to have another similarly unexpected male voice come out of Buttercup, the white unicorn with hearts on his face (not that Jeff Garlin does a bad job). Whoopi Goldberg as an octopus named Stretch felt like more of a marketing move as she doesn’t get much voice time. And Bonnie Hunt as Dolly felt forced. Not all was disappointing. Michael Keaton just about steals the show as a narcissistic Ken doll. And Kristen Schaal and Timothy Dalton could’ve have used a little more screen time for their fun voicing of a loopy triceratops named Trixie and a master thespian hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants. Also deserving of special note is Blake Clark as Slinky Dog, who seamlessly steps in for his friend the late Jim Varney.

Usually the first thing I like to discuss in my reviews is the story, since even if everything else has issues a good story can turn the whole film around (see Hoodwinked, for example). Pixar is apparently incapable of writing a bad story, so I didn’t think there would be any suspense in saving this for last! Toy Story 3 has some of the most adult themes in any animated film from a major modern animation studio. While Up and Ratatouille before it also were more profound in some of their themes, Toy Story 3 really cranks up things. Growing up, losing loved ones, moving on with ones life, loyalty, facing death head on, and knowing when (and being able) to let go are all touched on during what on the surface is a silly film about toys.

While the movie is inevitably a tear-jerker (I haven’t talked to anyone who wasn’t brought to tears by it yet), there is no feeling that they are manipulating emotions solely to bring on the waterworks. The story itself is touching and extremely moving, and not at all forced. The last five minutes deserve special praise. Without giving anything away, just note how every expression, every look, and even something as tiny as an intake of breath is perfectly written, animated, and performed. Moving away from the tear-jerking, Toy Story 3 is also one of the darker films Pixar has done (though part of that is obviously due to the more adult themes). And probably as a result of the darker vibe, the whole thing is more action packed and exciting. Some things may actually be a bit too intense for younger kids. But older kids, some of whom might scoff at the idea of an exciting Toy Story film, will love it.

Reviewing really good movies is hard work! There’s not much negative to say — which is always the easiest stuff to write! There’s only so many positive adjectives you can use before you sound too gushing! And you don’t want to risk ruining a minute of the film by posting the slightest spoiler. Suffice it to say Toy Story 3 is a movie you don’t want to miss. Not only is it the latest from Pixar (reason enough to go see it), not only is it the latest and last in the Toy Story series (reason enough to go see it), not only is it that very rare species of sequels (a really good second sequel), it is also without a doubt one of the most touching things you’ll see in any medium this year. A beautiful homage to the end of childhood, a powerful memorial on facing death with dignity, a moving tribute to loyalty and friendship, and a poignant testimonial that it’s OK to move on with life and let go of your past — all wrapped up in a funny, exciting story with some of your favorite characters.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Toy Story 3
June 18, 2010
103 minutes
Rated G
directed by Lee Unkrich