Being born in the late eighties, I watched the first 'Toy Story' movie through eyes of innocence and the final through eyes of maturity - the ideal way in which to have absorbed a series which draws its deepest themes from the tensions between these two states of being. The films have always deftly blended a playful innocence with a mature and worldly sadness, but 'Toy Story 3' manages to outshine its staggering predecessors by striking the balance more perfectly than ever.
Whilst the second instalment deepened and darkened the series’ themes by exploring issues of abandonment, belonging, and the importance we attach to things, 'Toy Story 3' takes us further into the shadows by going full on Orwellian and apocalyptic on us. In terms of both story and themes, it’s the most ambitious of the series yet (it is essentially a prison escape flick set to the thematic tune of class system politics).
The mere premise of the movie is markedly more melancholic than the other two of the trilogy: Andy is now grown up, moving to college, and deciding whether to keep, throw out, or donate his toys to a day-care centre. Early in the movie, we are hit with an uncharacteristically heart-wrenching gut-punch when Woody casually informs us that Wheezy, Etch and – no! – Bo Peep have all been lost to yard sales since the last movie; the first of many lump-in-throat moments.
But this underlying atmosphere of sadness and darkness doesn’t stop this from being by far the funniest of the series yet: I would wager that the scenes between Barbie and her new love interest (no prizes for guessing his name) will be some of the funniest material you’ll see all year. At every turn, the animators playfully explore the comedic distance between toy-as-character and toy-as-object, delivering the most glittering comedy the trilogy has to offer.
Because Pixar handle dualities and complexities so brilliantly, the distance between toy-as-character and toy-as-object isn’t just comedic; it’s also thematic and emotional. As the movie goes through its truly moving final moments, we are reminded that these toys are essentially objects, and that these objects have been brought to life (for over fifteen years now) by the imagination of their owner Andy, the imagination of Pixar, and the imaginations of the audience who have adored and embraced them. 'Toy Story 3' closes the series in a pitch perfect manner, not only by being the out-and-out funniest and most action-packed of the trilogy, but also by being a genuinely heartening and mature reflection on the power of imagination and the value of friendship.