With Andy Davis heading for college, his toys begin to worriedly reflect on their own future. They have not been played with in years, and a majority of them are gone. The army men, declaring their job done, parachute out the window. All hope isn’t lost, for Andy decides to take Woody with him to college and intends to place the rest of his toys in the attic. However, through a series of misunderstandings, Ms. Davis believes the bag containing the toys for a normal trash bag and places it on the curb. Saddened that Andy would throw them away, they climb into a donation box along with Molly’s old Barbie doll en route to Sunnyside Daycare. Knowing Andy has not abandoned them, Woody attempts to convince his fellow toys of the truth, though he will find the task more difficult than he ever could have imagined.
WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the series thus far.
Greeting the new arrivals at Sunnyside Daycare is a teddy bear named Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear – or Lotso for short. Sunnyside Daycare appears to be a toy’s paradise. There are always children looking for toys to play with; once one generation outgrows them, a new one will appear in their stead. There are plenty of materials available to repair the toys in the event they are broken, and every single one of them is treated like royalty. Given that there are always children in need of entertaining, why would any toy willingly leave this place? This is the question Woody finds his friends asking as he follows them to the daycare.
Much like its direct predecessor, Toy Story 3 provides yet another intriguing role reversal. A significant portion of Toy Story 2 involved Buzz leading a team of toys to rescue Woody. Andy’s favorite toy initially refused to return, but changed his mind, convincing Jessie and Bullseye to come with him. Here, Woody has taken up Buzz’s role by infiltrating the daycare and convincing the toys that they need to return to Andy’s house. To his dismay, not a single one of them wishes to return. With even Buzz feeling it would be best to remain at the daycare, Woody makes a lone escape.
It seems highly annoying that, for the third film in a row, Woody is the designated Cassandra. However, this is only irritating when we project our own knowledge of the series onto the characters rather than go by what has actually happened to him. You have to remember that as a young adult, Andy has not played with his toys in years. The toys are perfectly capable of keeping each other company, but it’s just not the same as making a human child happy. On top of that, they had been thrown into a garbage bag. Although Woody knows Andy intended to place them in the attic, he has to contend with the fact that his friends have thrown in the towel. Realizing he cannot sway them, Woody leaves the daycare, but accidently ends up in the possession of a young girl named Bonnie.
Meanwhile, Woody’s friends ended up getting more than they bargained for. The room they had been assigned to is where the toddlers play. Toddlers, not old enough to appreciate most kinds of responsibility, subject all of them to an extremely strenuous playtime. Among other things, Rex is hit with a door, Mr. Potato Head gets thrown at a wall, and Jessie’s hair is used as a paintbrush. It is at this point that the toys realize they’ve been had; the toys assigned to Lotso’s room enjoy the company of older kids, who play with them much more responsibly. Buzz escapes the toddlers’ room and attempts to ask Lotso to be moved to his room. Lotso responds to this request by resetting Buzz to his original factory setting, thus erasing his memory.
This is where the true nature of the film reveals itself. While the first two installments were adventure stories that weaved a fantastical narrative out of mundane settings, Toy Story 3 is a bona fide prison film. With the way he runs the daycare’s society, Lotso could be compared to the archetypical immoral warden, an insane dictator, or even a charismatic cult leader in how he has indoctrinated his henchmen. He and any other toy he deems worthy receive the more relaxed play sessions while the new meat are sacrificial lambs to the toddlers. Anyone who breaks the strict rules is placed in solitary confinement.
Appropriately, the toys then stage a prison escape once Woody makes his return. One touch I especially like about this sequence is how Barbie’s character is handled. It was extremely easy to dismiss Barbie as a stereotypical dumb blonde – particularly to those whose only exposure to the character came in the form of dated advertisements. The previous film did a good job subverting the perception with Tour Guide Barbie, who was highly knowledgeable of Al’s Toy Barn, but this installment takes a step further. As one would expect, she falls in love with a Ken doll owned by the daycare, but once she learns of her friends’ plight and his subsequent indolence to them, she takes the initiative. She ambushes Ken and tears his outfits – many of which are irreplaceable collector’s items. He then talks, giving Barbie the information she needs to repair Buzz and bust her friends out of the daycare.
As fate would have it, one of Bonnie’s toys is a depressed clown doll named Chuckles. He, Lotso, and an infant toy called Big Baby were once in the possession of Daisy, a young girl. Unfortunately, all three of them were lost after a family trip. When they returned home, Lotso discovered, to his horror, that he was replaced. As Chuckles puts it, this caused something inside of Lotso to snap. Lying to Big Baby by saying that they had all been replaced, they left, eventually making it to Sunnyside Daycare. After Andy’s toys make their way to the dumpster, but are confronted by Lotso. Woody reveals Lotso’s deception to Big Baby, who proceeds to push his former friend into the dumpster. However, Lotso drags Woody inside, prompting his friends to give chase. At the landfill, they soon find themselves placed on a conveyer belt heading straight for an incinerator.
As the film’s primary antagonist, Lotso bears many similarities with Stinky Pete. Both of whom are fatalistically cynical people who dogmatically force their beliefs onto others. However, the former’s bitterness is far more deep-seated. The prospector was bitter because he never got a chance to be loved. When he attempted to rope Woody into going to Tokyo, it was due to believing that if he never got such a chance, neither should anyone else – sour grapes, in other words. Lotso, on the other hand, knows what it’s like to have been loved, but his being replaced caused him to become a full-blown misanthrope, though his opinion of other toys isn’t any better.
Although Stinky Pete wasn’t particularly sympathetic, he was more woefully misguided than actively malicious. Meanwhile, Sid was simply an obnoxious kid who liked watching things blow up. While destroying toys was mean-spirited, he couldn’t possibly have known of their sapience. When they revealed it to him, he immediately changed his tune. Lotso has no such excuse, being the single most evil character the franchise had spawned by this point. He is one of those characters for whom the audience is always holding out hope that he can rise above his flawed nature. He never does, wearing his flaws as a badge of honor. After Woody and Buzz save Lotso, the latter has the opportunity to push the emergency stop button to prevent his saviors from being incinerated. The two of them learn that in the end, Lotso only looks out for himself, and he declines to push the button.
The scene in which the toys hold hands and accept their fate is crushing to anyone who had seen the previous films – and even those who didn’t. Fortunately, the three-eyed aliens fulfill their lifelong dream by using an industrial claw to save Woody and his friends from the incinerator. Even better, Lotso’s bad karma gets the better of him when a garbage man straps him to his truck’s radiator grille. For good measure, the writers acknowledge the implications of Lotso’s fate and he is thus told by his new comrades not to open his mouth. After looking down upon humans, he has now been reduced to a mere truck decoration.
By 2010, Pixar had proven themselves to be the masters of tugging at their audience’s heartstrings, surpassing Disney in that field. The final sequences of Toy Story 3 demonstrate how they got that reputation. After returning to Andy’s house, the toys are perfectly fine with being placed in the attic. However, Woody has a different idea. He places a note on the box containing his friends. Andy, believing the note to be from his mother, donates all of the toys to Bonnie. Andy isn’t a character the audience got to see often, but the series made the most out of his scenes when they counted. Watching him grow up and pass his toys to a new generation managed to stir the emotions of nearly everyone who watched this film in ways most directors could only dream of doing. Donating his toys forms a clear parallel to how Ms. Davis tearfully sees her son off to college, and handing Woody to Bonnie is the perfect way to end Andy’s story. To end things on a high note, Woody and his friends learn from Barbie that the daycare has been transformed into a genuine toy paradise.
Although Toy Story 2 was instantly hailed as a classic, a few writers were quick to point out that the Pixar team had not fully thought through their implications. That is to say, while Toy Story 2 allegedly ended on a high note, the narrative itself had far darker implications. Woody and Buzz were reunited with Andy and they managed to convince Jessie and Bullseye to return with them in lieu of spending the rest of their existence in a museum. However, as the primary antagonist was quick to point out, Andy won’t remain a kid forever. Someday, he will outgrow them, and there is nothing any of the toys can do about it. From this, these critics extrapolated that while Toy Story 2 had a happy ending, it wouldn’t remain so.
The criticism was, in the grand scheme of things, shortsighted because the main characters did acknowledge this reality at the end of Toy Story 2. To make the conclusion even more presumptuous, one of the reasons why Toy Story 3 manages to be such a great sequel is because it was willing to follow the implications of its universe to its logical conclusion. The experience it has to offer is therefore not only a treat for those who had stuck with the series from the beginning, but also the many children born between 1999 and 2010. Although I argue it doesn’t quite hit the same high points as its predecessor, there is little doubt that Toy Story 3 is a great film, and an even better conclusion to its overarching storyline.
Final Score: 8/10