"Toy Story 3": A Hit for All Ages

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Last fall when I attended the first ever D23 Expo down in Anaheim CA, I knew Toy Story 3 was bound to be epic. I sat with my chin in my hands, eyes big and wide, on the edge of my seat eagerly awaiting John Lasseter to come out and take the main stage to present what was coming next for Pixar Animation with a sneak peek at the long-awaited threequel the way that younger attendees ate up Miley Cyrus' private performance just a couple of days prior. I grew up with the Toy Story franchise-- literally. Like Andy in the film, I was just a kid when the first one came out in 1995, and now I'm old enough to have kids of my own that I'd tote along to the theater. And after screening the film (in 3D IMAX) last night, I can report that this third installment of a beloved franchise seems to be made for people just like me.

As previously reported, Toy Story 3 shows Andy getting ready to head out to college. His mother gives him boxes and trash bags and tells him that whatever is not properly organized will just be thrown away. Woody, Buzz, and almost the whole gang (as they are quick to point out early on, they lost a few good toys within the last ten years) make one final attempt to get Andy to play with them. When it falls flat, though, they have to come to the conclusion that their days of being the stars in his life are definitely over. Woody tries to convince them that the attic will be an okay place because there's "the old racetrack...and those guys from the Christmas decorations boxes; they're fun, right?" but everyone else isn't as easily convinced. And after a mix-up from Andy's mom that leaves the toys out on the curb with the trash, they all think they'd be better off at the day care down the street.

Of course when they finally make it to daycare, it seems as sunny as its name at first but things aren't what they seem, even in this family-friendly film. New toys are tossed to the youngest kids at the daycare-- ones that like to dip things randomly in paint, stick pieces of them up their noses, and bang them against walls, chairs, and the floor alike. The toys at the daycare center all act under the dictatorship of "Lotso" (as in Lotso Huggin' Bear) who is anything but cuddly, though he still does smell like strawberries.

Among the new toys introduced through the daycare center is Big Baby, Lotso's second in command and a baby doll that has a lazy eye, tattoos drawn on his arms (and a teardrop under said lazy eye), and the inability to talk but only coo and gurgle, "just like a real baby." Other new toys include a purple octopus, an old-fashioned telephone, Mr. Prickly Pants (a lederhosen-wearing stuffed hedgehog who belongs to the daughter of the daycare owner), a rubber triceratops, and of course, Ken himself.

Woody tries to save the day again, hatching an elaborate plan to make their escape so they can get back to Andy, who they now realize still treated them better even while relegating them to the attic. But even when he uses the truth about Lotso's old owner to try to turn the other toys against him, he has his work cut out for him: Buzz has been reprogrammed and is back to believing he has landed on this strange planet looking for his spaceship, and the toys end up in the city dump, far from Andy's house and with the threat of being composted and burned.

These are moments that appear a bit too dark or scary for the younger viewers. Gone are idle threats like a "bad boy" next-door-neighbor who likes to take toys apart, raising the stakes of the toys' peril from just a simple villain to imminent death. Kids today may be savvier than in years past, but they're still just kids, and seeing characters they have come to know and love-- even if just over the last hour and a half-- literally running for their lives from a fiery pit of death may provide nightmares just the way any traditional slasher movie would.

In other words, Pixar has done it again with their animation, turning usually inanimate objects into talking, moving, feeling characters you laugh with, cry with, and all around believe are alive. From the opening scene in which Woody and Jessie must save a train full of Troll Doll oprhans from "the evil Dr. Porkchop" before it falls off a cliff (an amazing action sequence set as a moment from an old home movie) to Buzz climbing up through a vending machine to find Ken running an underground poker game going on after hours in the daycare, to Ken modeling outfit after outfit in his "dream home" for his new lady love, Barbie, each scene pops more than the last. And not just because it was in 3D!

Toy Story 3 is truly the final chapter in a trilogy. It wraps up a story that was begun a decade and a half ago in a nice, neat, and sad but still hopeful two hour package. When Andy finally drives off for college, you know just as well as his toys do that you will never see him again. His story, in the world that this film creates, is over. But all is as it should be, and as Woody says, everyone "knew this day was coming." Well, everyone my age anyway. Little kids who walk into this film without seeing the first two first will be missing out on even more enchantment but more importantly, the attachment to understand why these toys so desperately want to stay with Andy even though they know they'll never be played with again.

Obviously audience members of my age range are also going to laugh at different jokes than the little kids who are coming into a movie theater maybe for the first time. The kids will be in awe of the spectacle before them and the idea that their toys can do amazing things when the lights switch off for the night. We, on the other hand, think swipes at Ken's masculinity are funny. References to other, older movies within scenes like when Lotso orders all of Andy's toys to be "imprisoned" will go over the younger audience's heads. But we will grow nostalgic-- and maybe even a little heartbroken-- when we see how old and slow Buster has gotten or a toy we may remember from our own childhoods zoom by on the screen. There is something for everyone, which makes Toy Story 3 an instant hit and sure to become a classic.

One thing is for sure, though: after seeing this movie, you will think twice about donating or throwing away old toys any time soon! Toy Story 3 makes you attached to old friends in a way that is not just for kids, and you may find yourself venturing up to your own attic or the top of your closest or wherever you keep the boxes from your childhood for a little trip down memory lane.

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