But what happens when that attachment starts to dwindle? Kids get older, mature, and start to lose interest in childish playthings. Such is the dilemma of Andy's toys in Toy Story 3. Andy's off to college, and his beloved toys, long relegated to the dark of the untouched toy box, are to be stowed away in the attic—all except one. The sensible, heroic Woody (voiced pitch-perfectly once again by Tom Hanks), still holds enough of a place in Andy's heart that he plans to take him along for the journey. But what about Buzz? The Potato Heads? Stretchy Dog? They feel abandoned, dejected, and unwanted.
Through hilarious and exciting missteps, the toys, once bound for the attic, find themselves on a curb about to be trash-heaped, and then miraculously in a donation box bound for a local day care center. There, the toys find themselves in an apparent paradise, a place where kids come through day in and day out, desperate to play with new toys.
Ned Beatty) takes the group around, shows them the ropes, then, effectively, throws them to the wolves. Suddenly Sunnyside Day Care is less a retirement home and more a prison camp, and the movie turns into something resembling a brightly-colored Cool Hand Luke. New toys are trapped in a room with the youngest, most violent toddlers, forced to endure tortures the US government wouldn't even dream of. At night, they're forced to stay in their cells and keep quiet, or else they get put in “the box.” (You don't want to go in the box.)
Woody, for his part, has seemingly escaped this fate, but rather than getting back to Andy's house, finds himself the acquired property of a young girl full of boisterous imagination. There he meets even more new toys, who welcome him with open arms. But while Woody loves being played with again, he's still Andy's toy, and yearns to go home. And when he learns of the fate of his friends, he sets off to rescue them, and bring them back to the home they belong in.
There is a lot going on during Toy Story 3's 100 or so minutes, but director Lee Unkrich (who co-directed Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo) keeps a firm grip on the pace, letting the action take hold when it needs to, and also allowing plenty of breathing room for the plethora of new characters to shine. Of course the old standbys ( Tim Allen, Estelle Harris, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, and the like) are all great. But the newcomers nearly steal the show.
Sincerely, there are more characters to keep track of here than an average episode of The Wire, but somehow, some way, they're all incredibly memorable. Beatty as the affably despotic Lotso is a near-perfect villain, and his cohorts all get ample time to shine, including a vaguely zombie-like baby doll bodyguard (sincerely the creepiest character of any movie I've seen this year), and the plasticine (in body and personality) Ken doll (a more excited sounding Michael Keaton than anyone has heard in years), who finally finds someone to share his love of tacky fashion and absurd dream houses when Barbie comes around.
Timothy Dalton's haughty theater snob stuffed porcupine, Mr. Pricklepants, and the tiny Fisher Price telephone that talks like a film-noir prison snitch) get their moments throughout this frantic adventure. And make no mistake, there is ample adventuring. Like any good Pixar flick, Toy Story 3 ably balances great character moments with great set piece action. I've no intention of spoiling the best moments from the movie, but suffice it to say that the toys' Great Escape-esque exodus from Sunny Side is jam-packed with brilliant and bizarre gags (ever wanted to see Buzz Lightyear as a Spanish lothario?), and big, sweeping moments of tense danger that are downright gripping. And just when things seem like they're at an untimely end, Unkrich and crew do what Pixar movies have done to me time and time again over the years, finding a moment of utterly perfect emotional resonance that touches you in a way that you simply couldn't have expected going in.
Undoubtedly I went into Toy Story 3 with exceedingly high expectations, and if the big, doofy smile on my face at the end of the film was any indication, those expectations were well met. I did find myself waffling a bit on whether some of that was simply because of how much those themes of attachment really resonated with me personally. I kept thinking back on all those old action figures and stuffed pals I had as a kid, and getting a fat, wistful lump in my throat because of it. But even if you don't have the same deep-seated and perhaps slightly unreasonable attachment to your toys of old that I do, Toy Story 3 will still find ways to get its hooks in you with its massive menagerie of brilliantly written and voiced characters, thrilling plot, fantastic visuals (the 3D is largely irrelevant, but the movie looks tremendous regardless) and flawless final scene that only someone with a heart of stone couldn't find themselves shedding a little happy tear over.
Now excuse me while I start rummaging through my old storage boxes looking for the few old toys I have left. I have a very strong desire to give my Bigfoot and Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man a ridiculous hug right now.