‘Toy Story 3’ movie review: dark and complex, this is the best Toy Story yet

I only hesitate to call Toy Story 3 the best in the Toy Story series because it’s been around a decade since I’ve seen the previous installments. Otherwise, this one surpasses my memories of the first two: wildly imaginative, surprisingly dark and complex, it ranks right up there with my favorites from Pixar, Ratatouille and Wall*E

Instead of giving us a retread of the earlier films – which so many animated sequels are prone to do – Toy Story 3 jumps forward a number of years to create a whole new set of problems. 

It’s something a lot of Gen X/Yers can relate to: young Andy is now about to go to college; what’s going to happen to his toys? Mom wants to clear out his room, and gives him three choices to deal with its contents: take them to college, store them in the attic, or throw them away. 

Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the toys prepare themselves for a long stay in the attic; hey, at least there’s those fun guys from the Christmas decorations box up there. 

But through a series of unfortunate events, Andy’s toys find themselves donated to the Sunnyside, the local day care center. Everything seems nice as they’re warmly received by a roomful of happy toys: there’s a big baby doll with a lazy eye, Barbie’s Ken (Michael Keaton), and the Care Bear-like leader of the group, Lotso (Ned Beatty). 

But Sunnyside isn’t as pleasant as it seems, and things soon take a surprisingly dark turn. As the characters find themselves trapped at Sunnyside, Toy Story 3 becomes a prison-movie parable; it takes things even further during a fiery garbage dump climax, during which the characters seem to accept their fate and embrace each other one last time (while the scene starts out as something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it shifts gears and might go too far as it seems to recall Schindler’s List). 

It’s heavy stuff, really, and not for the youngest of viewers. The recurring theme of abandonment and saying goodbye also reaches some profound depths. But there’s still a lot of fun to be had. Director Lee Unkrich, co-director of the previous installment as well as Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., fills the screen with a vivid imagination and joyful invention: a See N Say (“the cow goes”) toy becomes a roulette wheel, a cymbal-banging monkey serves as alarm-sounding watchman, a Chatter Telephone whispers advice to Woody through its receiver. 

The new characters also bring a lot to the film, from Lotso’s tragic backstory to Ken’s rather transparent sexuality (Keaton was clearly having some fun here). Toy Story 3 is playing in both 2D and 3D versions. 

I hesitate to recommend the 3D version over the 2D, if only because it seems to add so little to the proceedings. It does bring a little depth, and never draws attention to itself with anything jumping out of the screen towards the audience; in fact, after a while I had forgotten that I was watching a 3D feature. 

But while it blends seamlessly into the picture, I fear the overly-soft backgrounds in the 3D version detract a little from the art inherent in the animation. 

Day & Night, the 6-minute short that precedes the movie in cinemas, is just as good as the feature. Directed by Teddy Newton (who voices the Chatter Telephone), it’s a retro-cool mixture of CGI and hand-drawn animation, 2D and 3D, featuring competing silent characters that represent night and day. The use of 3D here is far more imaginative than the actual movie. 


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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