Director: Lee Unkrich
If ever there were a lingering doubt that Pixar Animation is the most consistently excellent studio in Hollywood today, that shred is obliterated by the release of Toy Story 3. Fifteen years on from the original Toy Story, their commitment to the storytelling crafts is unyielding.
Toy Story may have been the first film ever to be created entirely on a computer, but it wouldn’t have made half the impact it did without a rock solid screenplay to support it. Toy Story 2 came along four years later and taught us that there’s nothing more important on heaven or earth than spending time with the people that we love. It remains, to this day, one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema.
Since then the alchemists at Pixar, surely through some sort of Faustian pact, have elevated the animated art to such masterful levels that the only danger going in to Toy Story 3 is how it could possibly live up to the first two instalments.
Astonishingly, not only is it a match, it might even be the best of the three. No trilogy in history has managed to start with a masterpiece and then get progressively better; not Star Wars, not The Godfather, not Lord of the Rings.
It opens with an action scene that serves as the perfect reintroduction to characters we may not have encountered in a decade, as Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), along with all the other toys belonging to young Andy, get involved in a wild west/sci-fi adventure in Andy’s imagination.
But this turn out to have been a memory from several years before, and Andy has put away childish things and is about to go off to college. He’ll only be taking Woody with him, which means it’s either the attic or the bin for the rest of the toys.
They actually end up at a nursery that at first glance seems like a place where they’ll never be outgrown. Most of the toys want to stay and get played with but, for Woody, Andy is all that matters. What follows is a series of escapes, rescues, action and comedy that’s quite simply perfect in every detail.
What becomes apparent, and it’s something we may not have consciously realised before, is that these toys - these computer programs - have become some of the most beloved characters in movie history. We’re saying goodbye to friends we’ve made and over the course of 15 years and this allows Toy Story 3 to hit emotional highs even Pixar hasn’t achieved before, because we’ve not had this level of relationship with their characters before.
What we don’t get is much time between Woody and Buzz, but by now their friendship is well enough established, and Woody deserves to take his place with the greatest movie heroes, in noblest sense of the word, alongside George Bailey and Atticus Finch.
It’s possibly not the most original of the three, but it’s certainly the funniest, the darkest and the most emotionally challenging but at the same time satisfying. It goes to places and explores ideas about the very nature of existence and fully realised stories containing such thematic richness are incredibly rare.
Pixar’s achievement is most remarkably demonstrated during action sequences so rooted in, and revealing of, character that all other action films this year are rendered irrelevant. And it creates, in its most perilous moments, a meditation on death as profound as anything by Bergman, and a sense of mortality that will have us all looking into the abyss.
That’s it’s the best film of the year by a great distance is so obvious it barely merits mentioning, but there’s something bigger at work here. More than mere movies, Pixar has now created things to live our lives by. Toy Story 3 speaks to us all about the fundamentals of life and death, love and friendship, and it’s as essential as oxygen.