It really is remarkable that when Pixar announced a third instalment of their (arguably) most popular franchise, the general reaction was one not of dread, but anticipation. After all, how often does a sequel, let alone a sequel’s sequel, match the quality of the original? Hardly ever. So it’s a testament to Pixar’s integrity that the vast majority of moviegoers had so much confidence in the boys from Emeryville. Was it justified? Most definitely.
It’s hard to contemplate the amount of pressure placed upon first-time director Lee Unkrich’s shoulders in helming such an important feature. As if returning to the most quintessentially Pixarian of worlds were not daunting enough, he faced the added difficulty of following hot on the heels of 2009’s beautifully poignant film, Up. Yet somehow he pulls it off. The intro sequence is a high octane visual feast packed full of nods to the original’s opening and like all the best sequels, it straddles a fine line between self-referencing and originality, reminding the viewer of past highlights whilst avoiding nostalgic repetition. It’s also pleasing to see Pixar create a truly memorable villain. Leaving Hopper from A Bug’s Life (1998) aside, their back catalogue of baddies has been rather lacklustre, with the likes of Randall (Monsters, Inc (2001)) and Skinner (Ratatouille (2007))being quite one dimensional in their aims. Here, however, we get Ned Beatty’s brilliantly voiced Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear whose cute demeanour betrays his dark motives. A creepy backstory helps flesh out his character and reveal a nihilistic (yes that’s right) attitude which is genuinely disturbing and easily makes him my favourite part of the whole film.
True the dialogue is nowhere near as biting as it once was and the clever interplay between Woody and Buzz is also absent, but whilst it never quite reaches the heights of chapter one, it more than surpasses its forebear. Whereas the second film had a slower pace, Toy Story 3 returns to the manic inventiveness which I and many others first fell in love with. It’s hard to believe that the toy world had any more jokes left in it, yet the folks at Pixar outdo themselves here milking every last possible gag as if to ensure the trilogy ends on a high note. Gambling with batteries; Ken’s resentment at being a Barbie accessory; a method acting soft toy; Not since Cars (2006) has Pixar been this inventive.
Yet although this is probably the most fun you’ll have all year, it isn’t all fun and games. The first act in which we realise that most of the gang, including Bo Peep and Wheezy, are no longer around works almost as a warm-up to the heart-rending finale. It’s a perfect ending, one which is painful yet all the more admirable for avoiding the easy way out. Whether or not you find yourself sobbing into your popcorn I sense is likely to depend upon your attachment to the series. For anyone who was privileged enough to see Toy Story (1995) at the cinema and has subsequently grown up with Woody & co, I suspect this is the audience most likely to appreciate it. Regardless, come the closing credits, everyone is likely to be thinking the same thing: Can I see it again?
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Hercules (1997) *****
A Bug's Life (1998) *****
The Emperor's New Groove (2000) *****