James Stewart stars as a railroad man hired to secretly carry a payroll despite his suspected connections to outlaws
Woody, Buzz and co are back, and facing their biggest challenge: Andy growing up, which results in the toys being consigned to a childcare centre that proves to be more of a prison
Pixar might have had a bit of a wobble with Cars and Ratatouille, but since then it's been wall-to-wall masterpieces: Wall-E, Up and now Toy Story 3, which sees the welcome return of Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen). The pairing of the amiable cowboy doll and deluded space ranger toy first occurred 15 years before Toy Story 3. Can you believe it? Fifteen years! So it makes sense that in this long-awaited third film in Pixar's hit series time has also passed. Where once Andy was a six-year-old boy, adoringly playing with his favourite toys, now he's a young man, poised to leave for college.
The main thrust of the story here is the question of how the toys cope when the boy becomes the man, and puts away childish things. Do they get landfilled? Or retired to the attic? Or circulated to a childcare centre? Or passed on to another child? Most of those options are explored in Toy Story 3.
Andy decides to take Woody with him to college and store the rest of the crew - Buzz, Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Mr Potato Head (Don Rickles), Mrs Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and co - in the attic. Unfortunately, he puts them in a bin bag, which Mum takes to be rubbish and leaves out for the binmen. Fortunately, they escape and, believing Andy has rejected them, climb into a box for the daycare centre, and Woody catches up and joins them.
When they arrive at "Sunnyside", all seems blissful - they're greeted warmly by the leader of the toys, Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) and there are plenty of kids to play with them. Woody doesn't give up on Andy so easily though, so he escapes, and is picked up by a little girl called Bonnie. The others, meanwhile, discover all is not as it seems at Sunnyside - as new arrivals they're put in the pre-school room, where they're brutally "chewed, kicked, drooled on" by toddlers who haven't reached the stage of imaginative play yet.
Sunnyside is basically a prison for the toys, and Lotso isn't a benign patriarch, he's a bitter "Mr Big" type. His chief enforcer is Big Baby, a baby dolly whose only utterances are cute baby noises, making it all the more sinister. Lotso even forcibly recruits Buzz by re-setting him. All is not lost though, as Woody won't give up on his friends. Can he save them from this "place of ruin and despair run by an evil bear who smells of strawberries"?
Taking the directorial reins here is Lee Unkrich, the co-director on Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo. Unkrich worked on the story with fellow Pixar vets Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter (the boss), but there's also some new blood here in the form of Little Miss Sunshine scribe Michael Arndt. Between them, and Pixar's enormously talented crew of designers, animators, visual effects people etc, they've crafted a film that's funny, moving, sentimental and insightful, as it maps a human life, human relationships - specifically a boy leaving home, a mother's bond with that boy - through the medium of sentient plastic toys.
It gets pretty dark in places, both literally - for nocturnal prison-break sequences or moody flash-backs - and figuratively. But then, many animated family films have some pretty scary stuff in them. It's all part of the mix for powerful storytelling for children: think of the greats from the Disney back-catalogue like Snow White, Bambi and The Lion King, or more recent stuff from Studio Ghibli, like Spirited Away. Oh, and if you're a Ghibli fan, the Japanese studio's long-term relationship with Pixar is acknowledged by a nice nod here - among Bonnie's toys is a Totoro, the cuddly yet formidable forest spirit from 1988's My Neighbour Totoro
A film to enrapture children, and make adults weep. Plastic cowboy hats off to Pixar once again.
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