So I took the Villa Villekulla clan to see Toy Story 3 the other day, and you’ll just have to deal with the fact that this is not going to be the space for any Armond White-style contrarianism about what deserves to be the most widely loved movie since E.T. waddled across the screen back in 1982. I didn’t much care for E.T. at the time, and I still think it’s a cold-eyed, manipulative, bombastic piece of junk. But where Toy Story 3 is concerned, this blog is a contrarianism-free zone. The movie had me in the palm of its hand right from its opening, and during the final act — which begins at the moment Andy’s mother clutches up at the sight of his empty room — I was ready to do anything for the people at Pixar. Bring them coffee in the morning, drive them to work, wash their cars, babysit their kids — whatever.
My biggest problem with last summer’s Pixar entry, Up, was that the silly action-blast finale was a disappointing step back from the deep chords of emotion sounded in the film’s opening. No such problem with Toy Story 3. The film is loaded with action sequences, satire, pop-culture jokes, and slapstick, but they all mesh perfectly with deeper character moments and poignant twists. There’s nary a misstep nor a cheap shot in any of its 90 or so minutes, and every one of its emotional beats is well earned indeed.
It’s been a good 15 years since that first Toy Story, and the Pixar crew have done more with that time than simply upgrade their computers. The story may feel light as air, but a lot of heavy thinking has gone into it. The thematic linkages between all three movies are dense and cleverly worked out, and Toy Story 3 pulls them into a fine, tight knot.
I’m know I’m going to see Toy Story 3 at least a few more times once it hits DVD, but even a single viewing gives me plenty to chew on. The imaginary play that opened Toy Story is recapitulated at the start of Toy Story 3, only this time from within Andy’s mind. The villains in all three films have been guilty of misusing toys, whether by torturing them, putting them on display away from children, or deliberately leaving them vulnerable to abuse. Having shown us what should not be done with toys. Toy Story 3 concludes by showing us what should be done with toys. Without being at all heavy handed, the film argues for imaginative play as a means of moral and emotional development, and in its quiet way the conclusion of Toy Story 3 is one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in a theater.