Toy Story 3 is easily the best film of 2010. Toy Story 3 is possibly the finest 'part 3' ever made, give or take a The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. It is thrilling, funny, and scary, alternating between bouts of inspiration and heartbreak. Whether it is or isn't the best Pixar picture yet is a moot point. It fits in their canon as another glorious mediation on their core themes (existing in safety vs. living with risk, letting go of that which is lost and cannot be recovered, the inevitability of time, the nature of 'home'). If the first two pictures took Woody and Buzz to 'infinity and beyond', this one takes them to hell and back. It absolutely must be seen in 3D if possible, if only because the glasses will be useful in hiding the stream of tears during the first and last reels.
A token amount of plot - Eleven years have passed since Toy Story 2, and Andy is just about ready to leave for college. The last several years have been difficult ones for Andy's toy collection, as they have grown accustomed to being played with less and less as Andy has grown from a child to a young adult. After a cleaning mix-up nearly sends our beloved playthings into a garbage truck, Buzz, Jessie, Ham and the gang take refuge in a box intended for donation to a local daycare. Woody however refuses to believe that his beloved owner intentionally abandoned him and quickly attempts to make his way back to Andy's house. The others take comfort in their apparently joyful new digs, a colorful and exciting world filled with new toy friends and an unending parade of children who will play with them constantly. But when the dark underside of the daycare center is uncovered, will the toys choose to remain there or live forever in Andy's attic in the hopes that Andy's children may one day play with them again?
It goes without saying that the film deals with some harsh truths about life, especially what happens when we grow up and our children grow up before our eyes. When we are no longer constantly needed by the ones we've loved, where will we go for happiness and fulfillment? After the fantastically exciting and funny action sequence that opens the picture (I could have watched a whole action thriller set inside Andy's imagination), director Lee Unkrich wastes no time laying out the grim picture. Andy is all grown up, many of the toys have been lost to donations or yard sales, and the core group that remains faces a most uncertain future. The film picks up and lightens up quite a bit once they get to the Sunnyside Daycare and the emotional drama takes a backseat to caper hijinks. Still, amidst it all, these toys are basically exiles searching for a new home. The fear and resentment that goes with that is always under the surface (every facial expression from Jessie is a reminder that she's been through this before).
Emotional turmoil aside, the film is still filled with rich comedy and delightful new characters. From Barbie finally meeting her Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) to the leader of the daycare Lot's-O-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty), to the exceptionally sad clown Chuckles who tells a terribly sad story (drolly voiced by storyboard artist Bud Lucky), this installment contributes mightily to the Toy Story family, and some of these new characters have profound character arcs. The only real qualms involve two minor character arcs. Buzz Lightyear's sheepish crush on Jessie is amusing, but its the only subplot that forgets that this film takes place eleven years, not eleven months, after Toy Story 2 (the space ranger took over a decade to make a move?). And the running gag concerning Ken's ambiguous sexuality is amusing even as it flirts with homophobia.
The film is full of exciting chases, near-miss escapes, and old-school wit to keep audiences young and old amused. The youngest of audiences won't get the pathos and those old enough to understand the subtext will be quite touched by the end. Oddly enough, this is a more overtly spiritual picture than we're used to from Pixar. Woody's steadfast belief in Andy contrasts with the rest of the gang who have lost their collective faith in their would-be 'higher power'. In the end, the film seems to come out on the side of Deism. Point being, there is lots of chew on here, and the final act gives way to moments of astounding power before unraveling an epilogue that provides a remarkable amount of closure to the story as we know it. I could have done without the overly comedic end-credits cookie, as filmmakers were afraid to end the movie on such a bittersweet note. The bits are indeed funny, but the final pre-credits image is exactly how the film, and the series, should have ended.
If it needs to be said, the animation is once again peerless, as some of the most poignant moments come from just the facial expressions. And, it should indeed be noted, this is some of the best 3D work yet in a cartoon or otherwise. The film feels fully immersive, but you rarely if ever 'notice' the 3D effects at work. Obviously the IMAX screen only increases the scope of the viewing experience, and it's worth it if only for the opening sequence (the most enjoyable action scene of the year) and a terrifying brush with death at the finale (sorry, no details). And unlike some other 3D pictures, the colors still pop and the visuals are still razor-sharp. The film is good enough to work on any size screen, but it's worth seeing in the best format that you feel like splurging for.