Cinema is littered with trilogies that narrowly missed nailing the hat trick, scoring two out of three falls, or simply just having one weaker entry. Bring up any trilogy and check; it’s all there: Godfather has Godfather III, Return Of The Jedi is a notch below it’s two older brothers and The Dark Knight Rises sinks beneath the other entries in the Batman Nolan-verse. It’s all relative of course but you get the point; most trilogies have a recognized black sheep (usually the third entry) and that’s just the way of the way the world works.
Allow Pixar a minute to typically change things up a little…
In 2010 they put out Toy Story 3 and rather than resting on their laurels, the animation powerhouse went all in on what turned out to be the funniest, smartest and emotion shredding entry of the series to date while fearlessly wrapping things up with a coda that would leave the most steely cinema goer a blubbering wreck that pretty much netted them a perfect 3 for 3 for their premier franchise (Cars couldn’t even technically muster up ONE).
It’s a more nerve wracking time than usual for the lovable gang of toys we’ve come to know and love as time has inexorably moved on and Andy, all grown up, his heading off to college. Most of their number – Woody’s boo, Bo Peep among them – have gone, sold in yard sales or simply given away and those that are left are resigned to their fate of spending many years shut up in the attic (technically making them inaction figures…no?). Woody, however, is adamant that Andy will still take care of them but after a mix up leaves the toys convinced that their kid has finally forsaken them they manage to get themselves donated to the Sunnyside daycare centre, a place where they all believe they’ll be played with again. Run by a seemingly benevolent teddy named Lots O’ Huggin’ Bear, it seems like paradise but Woody has reservations that ultimately come true when it’s revealed that “Lotso” runs the place like a maximum security prison where the “chosen” toys play with the older, more sensible kids, while any newbies have to try to survive brutal play sessions with the maniacal toddlers that stomp the shit out of them non-stop. Woody manages to escape this sadistic regime only to be taken home with Bonnie, an imaginative child whose own collection of toys treat playtime like it’s an improvisational acting troupe. Vowing to bust his friends out of Sunnyside, Woody heads back to openly oppose Lotso’s plush penitentiary and get everyone back home to Andy’s – but even if that’s possible against Lotso’s gang – which includes Michael Keaton as a fashion obsessed Ken doll – do they have anything to actually return to?
A huge amount of brand new characters that somehow all each get a killer line, or moment without anyone getting wasted. While your face uncontrollably twists into a grin at the presence of Timothy Dalton’s hedgehog acting luvvie, Mr. Pricklepants it’s also drops at the sight of Lotso’s muscle, the truly intimidating Big Baby, a mute, lazy eyed hench-baby that make up one of Toy Story 3’s many suprising horror references.
Another massive kick the film gives you is how existentially weird Toy Story gets in search for it’s fiercely original laughs: take Mr. Potato Head for example, thrown and locked into the kiddie sand pit like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, he manages to wriggle free by using his detachable features and extremities to animate himself as a piece of tortilla. While this is obviously hilarious, it also makes your mind start to wonder where exactly Potato Head’s consciousness actually lies if not in his body which not only makes the whole thing funnier but also makes you fall into an existential thought spiral like all good Toy Story movies should do…
But this is just the tip of the iceberg as the wonderfully bizzare characters and giggles come thick and fast; Buzz having his personality reset into Spanish mode which has him turning into a hot blooded womanizer, a nightmarish, bug-eyed, cymbal clashing, look-out monkey causing guffaws and freak-outs in equal measure, Chuckles the clown and his gloomy, film-noir-ish story telling, Ken’s fabulous fashion show – it’s all fiercely unpredictable and painfully funny but it wouldn’t mean anything without it’s gut punch of an ending where farewells are given and new beginnings present themselves.
It’s this emotional maturity in a movie – that also contains a Glo-Worm mistakenly suspects that a Ken doll indulges in cross-dressing – that gives the movie it’s most devastating moment. Some argue that it’s the passing-of-the-torch ending that utterly wrecks them the most – and they have a major point – but for me it’s the moment where the gang, betrayed by Lotso (“Where’s your kid NOW, sheriff!” is one of the greatest utterances of an animated villain in history) and stranded in a furnace that looks hauntingly like a PG version of Dante’s Inferno, seemingly can find no escape and… resign to their fate and clasp hands as a fiery end beckons them. It’s a remarkable moment of genuine pathos between billions of pixels that speaks more volumes than most “real” movies and even though this is Disney, and nothing can possibly befall them, I’m always convinced that something unspeakable will happen.
Whether you feel that all of Toy Story 3’s work was partially undone by Pixar going for a part 4 is entirely up to you (I personally DON’T think that, but after seeing Indiana Jones 4, I DO get your point) but this part 3 manages to score the studio that most impossible of holy grails: that pretty much perfect trilogy I mentioned earlier.
By far the funniest of the three (and that’s saying a LOT) with more heart than a creepy butchers shop, Toy Story 3 proved that when it comes to pumping out sequels that still manage to contain that exceptional magic, Pixar is more than capable of having it’s cake and eating it.