I have struggled to see Pixar movies in the theater. The audiences for childrens' movies tend to be filled with children! I finally saw Toy Story 3 on DVD, after everyone on Earth told me how terrific it is, how it will make us all cry forever, and so on. I hold Pixar up to a very high standard.* Eleven years after the first terrific Toy Story sequel, Pixar does not NEED this franchise anymore, so they must have had a good reason to return to it.
Too bad #3 feels like a rewrite of #2. It's as good as #2, but that's not a good enough reason for me! Plenty of spoilers ahead...
In the first two movies, it was easy to draw parallels between the toys' lives and our own. Like the toys, our lives only have meaning as long as someone loves us. In this third movie, the toys' motivations are much less clear. The little boy Andy is now grown up and going off to college, so the toys are bound for the dorm room, or the attic, or the trash. What fate will Andy choose for each of them? Andy chooses to take Woody to college with him, which doesn't seem so great to me: it's only a matter of time before he's turned into a bong. Andy chooses the attic for the remainder of the toys, but due to some clunky plot machinations, they think they've been condemned to the garbage. The toys rationalize that the attic is not so bad; they can play with other toys "and the Christmas decorations are fun." This sounds like a desperate screenwriter in denial to me. The only fates which make any emotional sense to the audience are A> Donated to a young child (reborn), or B> garbage (death). Some kind of dusty purgatory in the attic sounds like a fate worse than the garbage heap. How'd you like to be locked in the attic until the next generation has kids of their own?
After some more implausability, Woody and all the rest end up at a day care center. The toys are all thrilled to be saved from the dump. Win-win, right? Wrong: the toys are ruled with an iron fist by the folksy Southern gentle-bear Lotso. The day care center is a prison for toys: the strong and powerful enjoy a cushy life with the older kids, while the new recruits (our gang) are sent down to be tormented by the toddlers. Are we being told that day care is a living nightmare? That toddlers are terrible monsters? This "day care as prison" metaphor works on the surface, but it only serves as an obstacle to discussing the bigger theme of these movies: what is our purpose in life? Eventually the toys are convinced that anything is better than prison, and besides, Woody's going to miss freshman orientation if they don't bust him out.
Of course their prison escape route is through the garbage chute, and they all end up at the dump anyway. An extremely frightening sequence follows where the toys resign themselves to certain death in the incinerator. This scene disturbed me, and I'm a grown man. I don't see how this movie can be rated G with a scene like this, which would give any child nightmares.
They don't get incinerated, they end up back at Andy's house. Then, through a total cheat of the rules of the Toy Story world**, all the toys are donated to a young girl, just like we knew had to happen somehow.
Now that I've finished poking holes in it, it's NOT as good as number 2. They didn't really need to make another sequel. I'm sorry they did. Then again, they've made Cars 2, a sequel to my least-favorite Pixar movie. Aieee!
*The only two which I don't completely love are A Bug's Life, and Cars. I watched UP on DVD while distracted by caring for my newborn son, so I don't have an opinion of it yet!
**At the end of the movie, all the toys are in a cardboard box in Andy's room. Woody grabs a Post-It note and pen, then forges a message from Andy's mother which convinces Andy to give all his toys to a little girl down the street. The only other time I can remember Woody intervening like this is when he talks to Sid at the end of the first movie. I am sure fans of the movie will say "how is this different from all the other things they do while our backs are turned?" but it felt totally wrong to me.