1. The Lord of the Rings
2. Star Wars (Original)
3. Toy Story
4. Indiana Jones
5. Back to the Future
6. The Godfather
7. The Dark Knight
8. Daniel Craig’s James Bond
10. Evil Dead
The third film in a series, particularly a series of 3 is nine times out of ten, an underwhelming flop that either concludes a trilogy with relative honor without being a brilliant masterpiece in its own right compared to the previous two (in other words, a moderately well done film that is celebrated on the basis of having done the trilogy no harm… i.e. Mission Impossible 3, Alien 3), or a trainwreck so catastrophic in its failure that for the previous two installments to remain immortal in their greatness, the final film must therefore be erased from our memory (Spiderman 3, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, & X3: The Last Stand).
But every now and then, a third movie comes along that knocks it so far out of the park, the momentum generates a wave that launches the previous two even further than they had been launched before. That is, a third film is not only better than the previous two, but it elevates the previous two. In my top ten, there are only two films that pull that off. The first is Skyfall, the third installment of the Daniel Craig James Bond Trilogy. The other, is Toy Story 3.
Toy Story is a trilogy that aged alongside myself. I was only a couple years older than Andy. Toy Story was a film that became the new favorite thing of myself and just about all my friends. It’s the film that inspired me to get a Buzz Lightyear spaceship toy, while my friends collected the others, and we’d bring them all to each other’s houses to complete the set and play with them the way Andy did. I even played the Toy Story 2 videogame for computer – first game I ever achieved 100% completion on (every Pizza Planet Token!) Ah, I gotta play that again…
Until the trailer came out, I had no idea that Pixar was planning a third Toy Story film. I was a ways into college already, but the memory of the transition from high school was still fresh enough that I could nonetheless identify with what Andy was going through. But given how much my general tastes had changed since the second film, I was apprehensive about going to the theater to see it. Another Toy Story movie? Really? It’s been over ten years! To me, Toy Story was merely an item of nostalgia – a cultural phenomenon that, while glorious, had been upstaged by Harry Potter and the new trends. You’d think that it’d be pretty much impossible for a third film to be good enough to capture the essence of brilliance of the first two films and harken us back to the days of our childhood, where the world was nicer, simpler, and so were we…you know, the thing that The Phantom Menace failed to accomplish for Star Wars.
As a trilogy, Toy Story is many things – interesting, funny, emotionally compelling, thought-provoking, innovative, superbly-voiced, incredibly well-animated, engaging, and just a generally super cool concept. But best of all, it’s progressive. The first was amazing. The second was miraculously even better. And the third…we’ll get to that.
Toy Story was a fresh idea in 1995, but after being cool enough to be seen by everyone, and being good enough to be bought by everyone, that idea wasn’t fresh anymore. If Toy Story was an awesome motorbike, the only thing a sequel can do is upgrade the awesome motorbike with a higher horsepower engine, additional traction for the tires, an oil change, a fresh coat of paint, and a badass decal, and then take that bike on another adventure.
Toy Story 2 did just that. It kept everything that was great about the first film, working with the same set of tools, but knowing how to use them better. There’s a lot more action in Toy Story 2, but the film never skimps even for a minute on what made the first film so compelling – the characters, and most notably, the way the characters deal with and eventually overcome their problems. Wherein the first film, Buzz Lightyear was under the delusion of being a bonafide space ranger and savior of the galaxy, while Woody was under fear of being upstaged and rendered obsolete by Andy’s new and cooler toy, Toy Story 2 shed light on a new problem – the fact that no toy will last forever. Whereas the first film tasked Woody with overcoming his insecurities to save Buzz, the second film tasked Buzz with taking charge of the other toys in order to save Woody. These films aren’t just sequential, they’re parallel.
These were the reasons I was apprehensive about Toy Story 3. The first two films were such an uncanny partnership, I thought a third installment, no matter how nostalgia-inspiring, would just gum up the works and attempt to revitalize a franchise that had died long ago with honor.
Boy was I mistaken.
Toy Story 3 did everything Toy Story 2 did – take all the characters we love and thrust them into another emotionally torrid adventure, but this time, exploring the interrelationships on a multidimensional basis. Woody and Buzz are still the stars of this film, and they’re still just as great as they’ve always been, but this time, the other toys get even more screen time, and a lot more memorable dialogue. This time, the toys as a whole are faced with the realization that there is nothing they can do to stop kids from growing up and entering new phases in their lives, and that once kids do grow up, the toys are doomed to be discarded one way or another, whether it’s to purgatory (the attic), hell (you know what I’m talking about), or heaven (you also know what I’m talking about).
The core is the same, but everything is improved – the animation, the action, the opening act, the character dynamics, and the intensity level. This film packs a bigger emotional punch than the first two films combined. The tone widely varies without interrupting the flow of the story. And that ending… I can honestly say that the ending of Toy Story 3 is the most beautiful and tear-inducingly happy ending I’ve ever seen.
During the comedy moments, I kicked my legs up so hard in my laughter during I nearly took the head off the poor woman in front of me. My heart raced upon the climax, and when the ending arrived, tears of sadness and joy poured from my eyes. It had been quite some time since any animated film…or any film at all got that reaction out of me. Titanic couldn’t make me cry. Braveheart couldn’t make me cry. Gladiator couldn’t make me cry.
The wonderful qualities of the film would have been enough to make me love the movie already, but Toy Story 3 did something else. It made me realize that I never got a chance to bid a true farewell to these characters that I loved so much as a child…and it made me realize not only how much I missed them, but how much I actually wanted to say goodbye to them. There aren’t very many films that have opened up a doorway into my past so that it can close it for good in an emotionally satisfying way. It was therapeutic in its own way. For most sequel films, I take the time to reacquaint myself with the general premise before seeing them. With Toy Story 3, I didn’t have to. When the film started, it was as if we hadn’t skipped a beat.
Toy Story 3 is nothing short of a victory. It was one of the best films of 2010, and is, in my honest opinion, the best film Pixar has ever made – even better than Up, The Incredibles, and WALL-E. It was one of the defining film sagas of my childhood and while, I’m sure there are many more great projects to be undertaken by Pixar, and while I’m sure the best is yet to come for movies and trilogies, Toy Story will always remain near and dear to my heart, for infinity and beyond.