Sequels are notoriously tricky things to pull off – trilogies even harder. The franchise not only has to be a strong and established one, but you have to ensure return fans and make them believe that they’ll be missing out on the ‘next chapter in the story’, if they don’t catch the new installment. This certainly seems to be something Pixar was pitching for in the long run-up to Toy Story 3, with yet another new character announcement virtually every other week. The worrying thought was could Stanton and co be in danger of diluting its winning formula of genuinely endearing animated stars?
Not a chance, is the honest answer because the new ‘toys on the block’ at Daycare centre ‘Sunnyside’ – a contradiction in terms, without spoiling the plot – under the iron rule of a despot soft, pink teddy bear, a giant baby doll with a lazy eye, and a Ken doll who is more than in touch with his feminine side, as he is his own reflection, just add to the powerful draw of old friends Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Hamm, Slinky, Rex and the Potato Heads. One of the reasons these new play things compliment the old, apart from the necessary need to inject new blood into the story, is all have one thing in common: the desire to belong. This powerful emotion is a key theme that runs throughout the films, but is poignantly brought to a head this time with grown-up Andy going off to college. It’s this fear that both young and old audiences instantly engage with, and Toy Story 3 addresses it in the most emotive and memorable way possible, with an equal measure of fun.
And Version 3 is funnier, as it is harrowing in places, as well as far darker with a very real danger lurking in the toy box that might surprise some. It’s as though the franchise has ‘grown up’ like Andy, too. In fact testament to this edger side is the beautifully rendered furnace scene, where our toy heroes almost come to a hot, sticky end, like homage to Ripley in Alien: Resurrection. It’s at this very point in the film that the toys become very life-like and vulnerable indeed, and we understand just how much of an impact they’ve made on our subconscious over the past 15 years. Perhaps the near seamless 3D enhances this whole experience, a credit to the years of development that Pixar has put into their product – a tough act for each and every 3D film since to follow.
Ken, (Spaniard) Buzz and Mr Potato Head take centre-stage for some singularly huge laughs, each given their own moment to shine: Ken with his comedy fashion show for Barbie (who comes into her own and demonstrates that she’s more than just a pretty plastic face in a yard sale in this film); Buzz with his slick, nimble-footed Latin moves, after a forced factory reset by the ‘bad toys’; and Mr Potato Head in a very compromising position trying to help his desperate friends escape Sunnyside ‘prison’ in the most hilarious stealth move ever seen that will cause many to cry uncontrollably into their popcorn. The animation is so top notch at this very point, as well as in the furnace scene, that it’s as though virtual and real footage have been harmoniously fused together.
The ending is absolutely fitting, drawing a satisfactory close on one chapter, whilst marking hope for a brand new one. Let’s hope that Pixar don’t feel the need to make any more after this because it would seriously spoil the huge effect Toy Story 3 has bowed out on and cheapen the franchise.
To Box Office No.1 and beyond, Toy Story 3 is another triumph for Pixar, still masterfully tapping into and developing these toys’ very real anxieties, so everyone can enjoy and empathise with them. It is definitely a next chapter to catch, for sure. What you walk away with is a sense of total fulfillment, as Woody and gang are no longer just animated cartoons, but old, established friends. This film is probably as near perfect as any family cinema outing could hope for this summer and is guaranteed to hit the mark.
By L G-K