Fifteen years ago Toy Story was released. It was one of the first movies I remember seeing in a theatre. I was only 6 years old.
Four years later, the excellent sequel came out.
Last Friday, I went with a large contingent of friends to watch the final part of the Toy Story trilogy. I wasn't sure what to expect. The trailers didn't look promising. Most of my friends agreed. Nonetheless, we all spent our $10.50. Even if it didn't turn out like I hoped, how bad could it be? It's still Toy Story after all!
Of all my friends, I am probably the harshest movie critic and I do not go easy on children's movies. I was one of the few people who didn't like Pixar's last effort Up despite the universal praise it got. So even though I really, really wanted to like this movie, I was prepared to grade it harshly. Things weren't helped by the attached short "Night & Day." Though it was clever and creative I didn't really like it. But if you ask me, the last good Pixar short was "Lifted" attached to Ratatouille.
Then the film itself started and my critical mood quickly melted away. I won't spoil anything in particular, but I will say that the opening scene is awesome. It does everything necessary for the opening: reintroducing the characters while building a bridge between the older films and this one. Did I mention it's really funny? It's really funny.
Actually, this might be the funniest Toy Story of them all. Maybe that's just because I get all the subtle jokes now that I'm older. Maybe it's because all the homages to the previous films work. Referencing the films that came before is a frequently abused trope of sequels, but Toy Story 3 amazingly makes all the references work by building on them. The opening scene is a perfect example of that.
Speaking of referencing the earlier films, many of the themes of the second film are re-introduced here and made a central part of the plot. What will happen to the toys now that Andy has grown up? That's the central question of Toy Story 3. And while that set-up makes for a fun adventure with lots of laughs along the way, it's also cause for more than a few emotionally poignant moments.
I'm man enough to admit it: this movie made me cry. Several other guys my age admitted they did as well. It's crazy how something as seemingly fake and unnatural as a movie about toys can be so emotionally gripping. And not only a movie about toys, but the second sequel to said movie... made in a computer. You can't get much more artificial than that. Then again, aren't toys themselves like that? They're mass-produced in some factory in Asia - the complete opposite of "personal." But to kids, they are are precious.
As I watched this film I couldn't help being overwhelmed by nostalgia. I found my inner critic was struck silent not simply because I was watching a new Toy Story movie, but because that movie was genuinely good.
Pixar made this film not for the kids of today, but for those who were kids when the first movie hit theatres 15 years ago. I enjoyed it much more than my 11 year old sister. Now Pixar has grown up and we've grown up. The movie is reflective of that while still being wholly faithful to the spirit of the first two movies.
This is probably the best sequel I could have asked for. As the movie concluded Friday night, just two days after my 21st birthday, I couldn't help thinking that my childhood had officially come to a close. In many ways, this is the most personally meaningful film I have ever seen.
Thank you, Pixar.