Being a second sequel, there is an expectation that the film will begin with an obligatory introduction sequence. Director Lee Unkrich, working from a Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) screenplay, puts his own twist on the opening scenes by making it, in many ways, the most grand-scale scene in the film. I won't go any further in describing it, but the eventual effect is an ingenious way to introduce the characters we have come to love so much: Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles, Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Slinky (Blake Clark, replacing the deceased Jim Varney, who voiced the first two films).
The crucial human being in the Toy Story films is Andy (John Morris). Even though we rarely see him in the first two films, he remains a crucial part of the film's emotional center, and it feels right that in this entry he has a larger part. He is now 17 years old and experiencing his final week at home before leaving for college. After some tough thinking, Andy decides to put all of his toys, except for Woody, in the attic. But a mix-up with his mother (Laurie Metcalf) mistakenly sends the gang of toys to Sunnyside Daycare.
At first, Sunnyside seems like the perfect place for a group of toys who fear the emotional distress of the toy-owner relationship. The main toy at Sunnyside is a pink teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty), who explains the following: "No owners means no heartbreak." The problem here is that our group of toys, being completely new to Sunnyside, must be played with by the daycare's hyper group of children. In this case, "no owners" simply means that there is group of kids, instead of just one, waiting to violently throw these toys around.
To make things even worse, when the toys decide they want out of Sunnyside, they learn that they can't actually leave. Lotso turns out to be somewhat of a prison guard, and there is an extensive security system which prevents the toys from having the ability to escape. However, there is a sprinkle of good news. Woody eventually returns to Sunnyside, and when he finds out about the daycare's cruel nature, he enlists the help of a watchful telephone (Teddy Newton) to organize a jailbreak.
For all of its magnificence, Toy Story 3 is not a perfect film. For one thing, it sometimes feels too plot-heavy. (A review of the first two films certainly wouldn't need three paragraphs of overview.) Another problem is the treatment of Lotso, who receives the most attention of the new characters. In a great flashback sequence that will remind every audience member of Jessie's moment in Toy Story 2, we learn of Lotso's relationship with his original owner, and why exactly his good nature has been damaged. But the film is inconsistent in the way it wants the audience to feel about the character, and where Lotso ends up doesn't feel satisfying.
I also think this installment is less witty than the first two. To its credit, the film does have two great gags, one of which is tailor-made: the relationship between Ken (Michael Keaton) and Barbie (Jodi Benson). I will not spoil the other one. But it is the conversation between the central group of toys that lacks the cleverness and spontaneity of the previous films.
The film's great success is in its action sequences, which may even be better than those of its predecessors. For me, Toy Story has always been an action series, and this final installment is a dazzlingly impressive display of the genius animation which began at Pixar all the way back in 1995. The massive prison break sequence will grip you for every second of its duration.
Considering this is the second sequel in a family trilogy of very profound magnitude, the people behind Toy Story 3 deserve a heck of a lot of credit for delivering a film with such great suspense. From the beginning, no matter what kind of conflict the gang gets itself caught up in, we know that there is only so much harm the filmmakers can put their beloved core of characters through. And that is quite a handicap to work with.
One thing Pixar's great strengths has been the emotions of their endings. In the wake of Up (and even the first two Toy Story films, to an extent), this sometimes entails a bittersweet emotion. And since the ending will bring many audience members to tears, it may leave people with the notion that Toy Story 3 is a masterwork, which I do not think it is. But this is a genuinely timeless film trilogy consisting of three films that I will revisit over and over again as the years go by. This is much more than I can say of most films.