"Toy Story 3"

I’ve seen a lot of movies over the years. Some good, some bad, some memorable, some that I forgot the moment I left the theater or returned the DVD. There are some, though, that stay with you no matter how long it’s been since you first saw them. It is a small group of films that not only resonate with the viewer but also with the movie industry as a whole, changing the face of film. “Star Wars”, “Jaws”, “Jurassic Park”, and (for better or worse) “Avatar” come to mind for a younger movie fan like myself and I’m sure older movie goers could name a few that go further back than those. One that often gets lost in the mix, though, is “Toy Story.” Despite its great reputation and ranking on AFI’s Top 100 Movies (#99), I think “Toy Story” gets left out of the “changed the industry” conversation unfairly. Fifteen years later, however, we come to “Toy Story 3” and perhaps a little vindication for the former installment.

“Toy Story 3” picks up (fittingly) 11 years or so after “Toy Story 2” ended. Andy (the owner of the toys for those who have been off the grid for the last couple of decades) is getting ready to head to college. Through a crazy mix-up, the last remnants of Andy’s beloved toys (including Woody, Buzz, Jesse, the Potato Heads, Rex, and Hamm) are donated to a daycare instead of being placed in the attic where they were intended to go. While Woody wants to return to the house he was mistakenly cast out of, the rest of the his friends appreciate the lavish lifestyle of the Sunnyside Daycare, as described to them by resident head honcho Lotso, a giant purple bear. Quickly, however, the toys discover that they’ve been sold a lie and that they have been purposely placed with the younger, rougher toddlers to insure a longer life expectancy for the other toys. What follows is an outstanding series of adventures as Woody and the gang attempt to breakout of Sunnyside and reunite with their former owner.

I have been in love with the “Toy Story” universe from the very beginning. When the first movie debuted in 1995, I was 12 years old and starting to go through that inevitable phase of feeling too cool for “childish” things. “Toy Story” bounced me right back into the reality of the deep-down nerd I truly am and I will be forever grateful for that. Never in my life have I seen an animated film that matters the way “Toy Story” does. “Toy Story 2”, while nowhere near as good as its predecessor, is still a great movie that crushes your standard cartoon feature presentation. I’ve watched them both dozens of times and each time I find myself chuckling at the funny moments, taking in the more dramatic parts, and reflecting on just how special these movies are. To say that I was bursting with anticipation for volume three would be quite the understatement. Yet not even at my highest level of anticipation and expectation could I expect a result like what Pixar has given us.

“Toy Story 3” is…wait for it…a masterpiece. Please hear me when I say I do not throw that word around lightly. I’m a big fan of “amazing,” “great,” “incredible,” etc. but I almost never say “masterpiece.” “Masterpiece” is my one bugaboo, my one hold out for only the best of the best. But “Toy Story 3” is good enough for me to reach into that don’t-hold-anything-back part of my descriptive lexicon. From the opening credits, it took me about five minutes to adjust to, one, the 3-D nonsense that will undoubtedly torment me for the next few years, and two, the fact that I was actually, finally sitting in for a conclusion to a story I love so much. Everything that followed was pitch-perfect.

In all truthfulness, I can’t think of a single thing that is wrong or even slightly off about “Toy Story 3.” Visually it lives up to the unbeatable standards that Pixar is so known for and while the 3-D addition doesn’t really add anything to film, it certainly doesn’t detract or distract. Likewise, the voice talent that Pixar is able to assemble (when they want to) is legendary and “Toy Story 3” doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the veterans like Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusak, a host of “names” like Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, and Whoopi Goldberg seamlessly integrate themselves into the fabric of the franchise, exactly the way their characters do.

But the story is where it’s really at for “Toy Story 3.” The best screenwriters (or better yet, any kind of writer in history) in the industry can only dream of putting together the quality scripts that Pixar’s writers come up with for each and every endeavor. Truth be told, no one can tell an original story like Pixar can. It would be very easy for a third chapter of a story to be a bit tired, unoriginal, or burdensome. Instead, I’m going on record as saying this is the best story of the bunch. Each character, each scene, each line does nothing but further and deepen the story and thereby the enjoyment and the investment of the viewer. Simply put, nothing, not a single line, is wasted. The ability to make such ridiculous situations that Pixar is famous for seem so real is a true gift that cannot be understated. It’s difficult to imagine a world in which animated toys could provide some of the best, most authentic visions of what it means to be human, and yet that is exactly what “Toy Story 3” does. I would say it is impossible not to become emotionally invested in the lives of Woody, Buzz, and the rest as they essentially transition from mid-life crisis to empty nest syndrome. And the appeal which these characters have is masterfully crafted.

As much as I love the first “Toy Story,” I think “3” might be the best of the bunch. In a year that features very few highlights and following the road paved by last year’s “Up,” I’m left to ponder if this isn’t the time for an animated movie to win a Best Picture Oscar. While the final moments of the movie played out, I had a look around the room. The packed theater that had been so dreadfully loud in the beginning was now near silent, everyone’s eyes transfixed upon the screen. My entire group of 20 and 30-somethings sacrificing sleep, work, and common sense to be at a midnight showing we were way to old for all sat sniffling and red eyed, some choking back tears, other bawling like the big babies we are. And I was reminded of how significant a movie, a story, can be when it’s told the right way. Masterpiece.

Grade: A+

Take that every other 2010 movie,