A question was presented recently on this board: "Did we need a Toy Story 3?" A valid inquiry, for sure..... but after viewing the first two movies again, and then taking in the third last night, I'm going to say, "Yes. We absolutely did." There was a wonderful flow between the first and second films, a natural progression that made the latter's existence justified. It might have been harder to sell another sequel if it had come any sooner, but after more than ten years, Toy Story 3's sense of finality and closure, told in one last, great adventure for our band of toys, feels time-appropriate and very much worth experiencing.
The interesting thing about the movie is the natural flow of time. The passage of time since Toy Story 2's release is more or less mirrored here. Andy's seventeen and heading off to college, Molly's in her preteens, and even Buster, once a lively pup of a dog, is now old, graying, and physically exhausted. Woody and the gang are coming to terms with where they belong, time's passage taking its toll on their usefulness. Much of the movie is dealt with the grappling of where they should belong, and "Getting home to Andy" no longer carries the same implication as it did before. Along the way, new friendships are forged, and a renewed sense of mutual understanding is met. These central themes are no strangers to the series, but they're handled as deftly as ever.
I speak in broad terms, since I don't want to risk spoiling the plot. Fun throwbacks and Easter eggs are plentiful, and the core cast all have plenty to do. This is the first time, however, that there's villainy amongst toys, and Sunnyside Daycare plays host to this civil war battlefield. The climax toward the end will surely be talked about for years to come; you'll know it when you see it, but the gravity of the scene in question may end up being the most hauntingly suspenseful to show up in cinemas this year. The denouement is equally affecting, a wind-down period that caps off the trilogy in a bittersweet but satisfying manner.
Voice acting is, as usual, spot-on. I think it was great that they were able to get John Morris back as Andy, he himself now an adult. Blake Clark does an absolutely convincing job replicating the late Jim Varney as Slinky The Dog, the vocal differences between the two being little to none. Of the new characters, Ned Beatty and Michael Keaton have the meatiest roles as Lotso and Ken respectively. Jodi Benson, too, has a surprisingly extensive part as Barbie.
If there are flaws in the film, they're far and few in between. The first is that one character's central motive is cut a bit too closely from the same cloth as a character from Toy Story 2. You'll almost certainly see the parallel when you get to the flashback, and somehow, it feels like the treading of old ground as a result. The other is the soundtrack. Outside of "You've Got A Friend In Me", Randy Newman's music for the series have never really stood out. At best, they're incidental scores, befitting of the onscreen action, but bereft of any sort of thematic anchoring or memorable instances. Toy Story 3 is no exception, and where the second movie at least featured Sarah McLachlan's lovely "When Somebody Loved Me", Newman's self-performed "We Belong Together" feels like Newman on autopilot. The score as a whole is a particular let-down after the robust and lively The Princess and the Frog. On the plus side, there's a brand new version of You've Got A Friend In Me by the Gipsy Kings that will likely turn heads.
How To Train Your Dragon set an unimaginably lofty standard for animations this year, so I don't feel bad for placing Toy Story 3 a close second. To its ultimate credit, this is a Toy Story film through and through, and top-shelf Pixar all the way. Unlike the weighty outings of 2008's Wall•E and 2009's Up, they've managed to find a better compromise between joyous fun and emotional sensibilities, not to mention crafting a pitch-perfect finale for this legendary series.