As things turned out, waiting 10 years to make the third Toy Story movie was exactly the right decision. (And, BTW, Pixar, not Disney, should get the credit for holding out that long.) The kids, tweens, and teens who loved the first two TS films are now young adults who maybe, just maybe, have kids of their own... and the adults who also enjoyed the toys' adventures are now a decade-plus older and possibly feeling their age just a bit. Both audiences will find something to touch them in this heartwarming, intelligent tale of feared obsolescence, wistful loss, the virtue of loyalty, the pain of real or imagined betrayal, and the ultimate acceptance of "the world moving on."
Andy, our toy friends' owner, is now of college age and ready to put aside childish things... well, almost. He does intend to take Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) with him to college. Through the first of what will prove to be several key plot misunderstandings, the other toys think that they're destined for the garbage truck and the landfill (read: death). Instead, they wind up at a bright, shiny daycare center where the promise of a "new life" awaits. The gang (sans Woody, who is determined to stick by Andy, at least until a little girl shanghai's him) should have kept in mind the old human saying that starts "be careful what you wish for..." The daycare turns out to be the harshest of hierarchies, presided over by the deceptively benevolent Lots-o-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty). Anyone who remembers the first movie -- and especially the second -- can sense the familiar "rescue" scenario coming together, and, indeed, much of the second half of the film is devoted to the "Playmobil mother" of all Great Escape homages, fully a match for that of Chicken Run. (The Lord of the Rings films and The Bridge on the River Kwai get similar shout-outs.) A subsequent gripping scene at the landfill elicited "oohs", "aahs", and "awws" from our fully engaged audience, and the final scene -- which had BETTER stand as the last scene in the Toy Story saga, or Disney will be forever cursed -- is every bit as affecting. Suffice it to say that the toys have a bittersweet "happy ending," both embracing the next phase of their -- er, lives -- and permitting the "Andy phase" to reach appropriate closure.
Since those TS3-specific memorabilia ain't gonna sell themselves, we get to know a few new "toy regulars" -- a surprisingly intellectual Barbie (Jodi Benson), a dedicatedly metrosexual Ken (Michael Keaton), a triceratops with an interest in computers (Kirsten Schaal), and a porcupine with delusions of stage grandeur (Timothy Dalton) among them -- during the course of the movie. Lots-o-Huggin Bear, however, turns out to be the best of the lot, the closest thing that the TS trilogy has had to a tragic figure. Feelings of betrayal have always been a dark undercurrent of these movies -- Woody's fear in TS1 that Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) will replace him as Andy's "alpha dog" toy, Jessie's (Joan Cusack) paranoid fear of "being put back in the box" in TS2 -- but "Lotso" shows what can happen when one can't handle betrayal. I find it quite suggestive that the TS3 crew chose an obvious Care Bear clone to be the one character who "snaps" when it appears (mistakenly, once more) that his owner has abandoned him. Those of us who remember the cartoons of the 90s know how often writers doled out the snark about the Care Bears, creating evil/sickly sweet/twisted/etc. parodies by the carload. How much more powerfully and effectively does Pixar's take on the old trend get across the point that you can't manufacture kindness and caring, that there is something phony and insincere about the whole thing. It's especially potent since "there but for the grace of God" would have gone one or more of our other toy friends.
Needless to say, while there are deep themes here aplenty, there are plenty of laughs as well. Nicky was reduced to a fit of giggling over one priceless sequence involving the imaginative use of a tortilla, while everyone roared at the sight (and sound) of Buzz -- who'd been shifted back to "default" Space Ranger mode by Lotso and his partners in paranoia -- being accidentally reset to the wrong mode by the good guys. The resulting version of Buzz is... well, best described as "The Most Interesting Toy in the World." As for the much ballyhooed 3-D option, I honestly don't think that it would have added much to the film.
The opening Pixar short, Day and Night, was an interesting experiment, if a bit heavy-handed (the piece of dialogue wasn't necessary -- we got the point!). It wasn't as good as Boundin' or One-Man Band, among others. It does, however, suggest that Pixar may be considering a major mixing of animation media, so to speak, at some point down the road.