Welcome to the Pixar Rewind! Over the next couple weeks, we at Rotoscopers will analyze every Pixar film ever, and what makes each one so great. At the end of the series, and after the release of ‘Inside Out,’ we will have a fan vote to determine which film is the best of them all!
It was released after Pixar’s string of Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up. The sequel to two of the most beloved animated movies of all time. The expectations for Toy Story 3were rocket high. I don’t know anyone who didn’t leave the theater feeling that all their expectations were met and maybe even surpassed. This movie is an absolute masterpiece. Everything about it is genuinely great. The Toy Story series and the Pixar catalog are both so strong that it’s difficult to claim that this film is the best one of them all, but I think it’s the best movie Pixar has done. Here’s why!
Toy Story 3 is the perfect sequel. It doesn’t use its predecessors as crutches, nor does it rely on nostalgia to engage people. It builds upon the foundation of the other two movies, but it stands alone too. Someone who watches this film without having experienced the previous two won’t feel as strongly as those of us who grew up with the original, but they’ll still experience a complete roller coaster ride of emotions. This movies has it all. It will make you laugh with Mr. Tortilla Head. It will scare you with Big Baby and the creepy monkey. It will thrill you with the whole escape sequence. It will destroy your feelings with the incinerator scene. And it will reduce you to a blabbering, crying mess with its ending. I can’t even talk about that because writing and crying at the same time is a very difficult thing to do.
What I just talked about is ultimately the best thing about Pixar. The people who work there are really good at storytelling. They know how to engage an audience and make them feel strongly for the characters. They can make you care and cry about Carl and Ellie after only 7 minutes in Up. They know how to maintain your interest without a word of dialogue for half an hour in Wall-E. And Toy Story 3 is just a masterclass in everything.
This being a Pixar animated movie, the writing process was different than it normally is in Hollywood. Dozens of extremely talented filmmakers joined forces to create the best story possible and then one person was selected to write the screenplay. In this case, the chosen one was Michael Arndt, who won an Academy Award for his first script, Little Miss Sunshine. Someone at Pixar read that script before the movie was even made and hired him immediately. He does an extraordinary job. The structure of this film is magnificent. The dialogue is memorable (“I’m trying to stay in character!”) and the scenes move forward with purpose.
The storytelling at display here is phenomenal. Every character has a clear motivation and the ending feels so perfect you wonder if all three movies were simply made in order to build up to that particular moment.
Let’s talk about Woody for a moment. All the films orbit around Woody, his love for Andy, and his fear of abandonment. If you want to get all technical, all these movies are about mortality. And that’s why the incinerator scene is so tough to watch. Sure, you care about these toys and you don’t want them to die. But the best part about this terrifying sequence is when all the toys, who made incredible efforts to survive, realize there’s no way out and accept their mortality. They all hold hands to die together as friends. Where else have you seen such a painful – and yet beautiful – sequence?
I also have to talk about the cast. All the old favorites are back and as great as ever. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen continue to voice Woody and Buzz to perfection. Every supporting player is equally fantastic. And since everyone at Pixar is secretly a wizard, all the new cast members are just as good. Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants and Ned Beatty as Lotso are my personal favorites. Not only that, but these wizards also managed to conjure up fun new characters that are as memorable as the old favorites. Bonnie’s toys (who act as a theatre troupe verses how Andy’s toys have more of an office environment) are all hilarious (“THERE IS NO WAY OUT!”) and Lotso is an endlessly fascinating villain. I wrote about him and how he’s the dark representation of everything that’s wrong with Woody during last year’s Villain Vignettes in case you want to read more about him.
So we have storytelling and characters. Great. Now let’s talk about how Pixar used all of this to make everyone with a heart FEEL so strongly.
The movie doesn’t wait too long to hit you right in the feelings. They get us all high and excited with the western opening, only to then play a series of videos with young Andy to make us feel all nostalgic. To make sure there is optimal emotional impact they play “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” And then, when the song says “And as the years go by, our friendship will never die,” THEY CUT TO BLACK. And you realize Andy forgot about his toys.
Then, to make sure your heart is all tender and vulnerable for what’s to come, they show that the toys are all hopeful about getting Andy to play with them. Woody hugs the phone just to hear the voice of the boy, now a man, he loves so much. And Andy just walks away without even glancing at them. By now, all your emotional wounds – that were properly scarring from 2009’s Up – are open and bleeding again. The movie then proceeds to make you care even more about all these characters. That is, before it drops all pretenses and goes straight for your heart and stomps on it until the lady sitting next to you in the theater is scared by your loud, ugly crying (true story).
Here’s what happens, in case you blocked it out for the sake of mental health. The toys end up in a garbage truck on its way to the dumpster. It is their worst fear. They keep fighting and are all scrappy and brave in hopes that they will escape and get back to Andy. Woody and Buzz risk their lives to save Lotso and then help him up some stairs so he can save them. Lotso, being the meanest and most despicable being that has ever existed, doesn’t help them back. All the toys fall into an incinerator. As they look for a way out, they start to realize that this is it. There’s no way out. But if they die, then they’re gonna do it together. So they all hold hands and accept what’s to come. They give up.
After that whole sequence, they let you relax and breathe for about two minutes. And then they reveal that the incinerator scene was actually a pretty unemotional affair compared to what’s next.
For three movies we cared about these toys and their desire to get played with and to be there with Andy. You see, Woody strongly believes loving someone means being there for them all the time. To love is to stay. Love is never letting go. In one way or another we all agree to a certain degree. We all want what we love to continue to be there. Change is difficult. We all miss our childhoods, which these toys were a part of. We know them, we care about them, and we want them to keep being there for us.
But, you see, life changes. It moves forward and we can’t hold on to the past forever. We have to let go, move on, and adapt. Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to be there all the time. Sometimes love is actually letting go. People have a time and a place in our lives. Things aren’t meant to last forever. Maybe your years at school, or the time you spent with a certain person were great. And now they’re over. And that’s okay. This is the lesson Toy Story 3 is trying to pass on to you. And it does so beautifully. It is the perfect conclusion to all the time we’ve spent getting to know and love these toys. And that’s why I think this is Pixar’s best movie.
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).