To me the most commanding sign of the power of this great and beautiful film is the way it managed to make my 3-year-old son cry. Luke is not a sensitive child. It takes a lot to get to the boy.
You usually have to deny him ice cream or clip his fingernails against his will. To get to this child abstractly — using only images and sounds — takes a tremendous amount of emotional heft.
Toy Story 3 accomplished the task with just a line of dialogue and a whimper. I don’t want to spoil the scene beyond identifying it as one involving one of the movie’s more distant and funny characters — a noise-emitting baby doll. And damned if it didn’t have me clutching my son and willing my lower lip to stop trembling as well.
This movie is by far the best I’ve seen this year, and I’d be willing to bet my laptop that it snags one of the best picture Oscar nominations and is a strong contender to take home the best picture prize no matter what other works of genius come along this year.
Toy Story 3 feels like a once-every-five-years confluence of perfection in tone, delivery, timing, humor and drama. The movie dwarfs the two awesome previous films in the series and somehow manages to elevate Pixar’s stratospheric reputation even higher. Like Up, last year’s Pixar masterpiece, Toy Story 3 stares the concepts of love, dedication and mortality in their dagger eyes, refusing to blink as it sends you down a difficult and wrenching road, coaxing you along gently with humor and understanding.
The toys are no longer a rascally gang of wise-cracking buddies who get into misadventures suitable for a sitcom, but are rusted, worn-down tools passed over by life, staring into the existential void. Woody runs around like a revival preacher, trying to convince his friends that their owner Andy will still have some sort of use for them at some point down the road.
The movie cleverly prods at our need to rationalize death with concepts of an afterlife; things only get deeper from there. The movie analyzes the march of time in a way reminiscent of Ozu or Kurosawa, and takes on a feel of a Miyazaki film in terms of plot development. As the toys end up in part of a day care center that becomes a prison camp, Woody plans the toys’ great escape. Even if they win, they lose, and will surely end up discarded by the only owner who has ever loved them.
There are bad guys who stand in the heroes’ way, but as in a Miyazaki movie, they have their reasons for behaving the way they do, and may or may not be willing to see things the way the heroes do, even when they inevitably wind up in the same mental place.
The movie starts off fantastically, gets better as it rolls along and reaches an apex at the end, with betrayals, tearful partings, terrifying dilemmas and swashbuckling rescues. It ends predictably, but only because this is a great and unique story with an epic footprint that could only finish one way — the way you knew it would when you walked into the theater. Don’t expect foreknowledge to make it any easier to choke back the tears, no matter your age.
Starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Written by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich. Directed by Unkrich. Rated G. 103 minutes.