Toy Story 3

Burning it Down and Building it Up: The Legacy of ‘Toy Story 3’

Toy Story 3 is a movie that could only conceivably happen 15 years after the original. While it certainly might have worked semi-successfully for Disney and Pixar to churn out sequels one after another — as was the case with Toy Story 2, released just four years after the first — the efficacy and impact of Toy Story 3 is inextricably linked to its long-delayed release. Four years after the second, Toy Story 3 might have been good. A decade later, it was near perfect.

In Toy Story 3, sidelined series human Andy Davis, now 17, is preparing to leave for college. In a series of mishaps and comic mayhem that only Pixar could deliver, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the other A-list ensemble of toys are accidentally donated to a daycare centre by Andy’s mother (Laurie Metcalf, a dazzling bit of casting) and must decide whether to stay or return home. Staying would mean opportunities for play. Opportunities for new relationships and new experiences. Going home might mean sequestration from everything they’ve known. It might mean relegation to a dark box in the attic. It might mean being forgotten.

The gang endures severe, horror-tinged abuse from daycare Mafioso, Lotso (the late Ned Beatty), and his gang of ruffians, including a horrific baby doll Big Baby (Woody Smith) whose nighttime, swing set paroles are more frightening than anything the horror genre released that year. It’s bone-chilling, heartbreaking stuff.

As with the entire franchise, Toy Story 3 is a masterclass in ensemble casting and balance. With toys both old and new, an almost criminal amount of development and spotlights occur during the brief 103-minute runtime. No one is shafted or shifted to the periphery. Barbie (Jodi Benson) gets to channel her inner Erin Brockovich and Ken (Michael Keaton) tries on sundry outfits in a metrosexual montage set to Chic’s “Le Freak,” a moment that’s as wonderfully, deliciously queer as anything Disney or Pixar has done since. Tom Hanks’s Woody remains remarkably level-headed, and Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear further sheds the constraints of his inaugural “I’m not a toy” virtues.

Toy Story 3 is a heist film. A prison escape, Pixar meets Escape from Alcatraz. A horror parable with echoes of The Shining. A zany, wacky adventure. It’s also gorgeously animated and sensationally directed by Lee Unkrich from a screenplay by Michael Arndt, making it the eighth of nine animated films (most of which are Pixar properties) to be nominated for the Academy Award for either Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay.

Toy Story 3 is also an elegiac meditation on ageing, death, and moving on. It’s about letting go of one’s childhood and the boundless security that does– or should– entail. The comforts and confines of an adolescent hamlet are shattered. Parents leave, children move on, and the limitless imagination of childhood — of fairies in the head and soldiers in the sand — dissipate. They’re replaced by love and loss, success and failures, pains of so many different magnitudes and degrees, it’s impossible to catalogue them all in one lifetime.

Toy Story 3

It’s a film about privilege and inequality. Lotso and Big Baby were previously owned by a little girl named Daisy but were later lost during a family trip and promptly replaced by Daisy’s parents. Embittered and heartbroken, Lotso sought refuge at Sunnyside daycare, turning it into a prison over which he presided. It’s a series of heartache and grief that’s inexorably inconceivable to Woody and company, a chasm that separates the two quasi-leaders into two distinct, warring factions, a guerilla, ragtag group of new arrivals and the prevailing overseers of a building blocks Château d’If.

It’s all sufficiently dramatic with ample vignettes of inspired political monologues, betrayals and double-crosses, and intoxicating intrigue. It’s thoroughly uncompromised adult material, the kind that Pixar in its heyday was unmatched in incorporating into its G-rated features. Threats of violence merge with the literal. Toys are offed, battered, and imprisoned. Hope is lost and hearts are shattered.

In the scene Toy Story 3 is (rightfully) best-known for, Woody and the gang are thrown into a dumpster and taken to the dump where they’re tossed onto a movie conveyor belt. The toys, with Lotso’s assistance, narrowly avoid a trash shredder and endeavour to reach an emergency stop button. Lotso denounces the group, unable to reconcile even in the face of death, and abandons them. The toys fall into an incinerator, and after unsuccessfully trying to crawl toward safety, soon resign themselves to death. As they move toward the molten flames, they lock hands, one after the other. They acquiesce to their fate. They are going to die.

Childhood is over. 15 years after the original, during a time where the original audience was likely at or near Andy’s juncture in life, Toy Story 3 iterated a harsh, granular truth. Things change. People are lost and abandoned. Even the unhappiest of childhoods are still undergirded by a sense of unencumbered freedom that adult life matches only in pockets and moments. The only thing that makes it bearable — the only consistency other than heartbreak and tragedy — is the people we know and love. Friends, some old, some new, make the darkest hours worthwhile. That friendship alone isn’t enough to avoid the pain, but it can mitigate the aftermath. A harsh, stark truth, delivered by a motley crew of cowboys and potatoes.

Upon release, Toy Story 3 was the highest-grossing animated movie ever released, and the first-ever to cross $1 billion in aggregate, worldwide grosses. The final part in an epic trilogy (until the release of Toy Story 4 nine years later, a movie that isn’t Toy Story 3, and that’s all I’ll say), Toy Story 3 was the spark that ignited an entire keg. It blew up childhoods. It broke hearts. It shattered records. It redefined what an animated movie was and could be. It did all of this with the fluidity and sense of wonder of a kid playing make-believe in the park. It did all of this like it was child’s play.

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