Toy Story 3

photo If you’re wondering where the heart is in Hollywood, you don’t have to look any further than Pixar. Disney was very wise to have bought the spunky little animated studio-that-could. In a classic case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” economics, Disney knew it had to do something about Pixar, who was not only starting to take over Disney’s niche in Hollywood, but recreating it as well. While Disney was focused on pirates and teen musicals, Pixar was redefining what Disney had invented: the animated feature. And doing it better, perhaps, than Disney had ever done.

The “Pixar phenomenon” is not too hard to figure out. It’s quality product (read: top of the line technology) blended with great story and characters and true emotional appeal. In short, Pixar films, at their best, appeal to the three things we want fed when we experience a film: the head, the heart and the spirit. But mostly, they make movies that appeal to all ages: from the kids to the kids who live in the adults. Emotionally and spiritually, Pixar knows the secret formula: play to the heart and the rest will follow.

It all began in 1995 with a little movie called Toy Story, which introduced us to loveable characters Woody, Buzz, and others that were animated and inhuman, yes, but, somehow they were so real and relatable. Toy Story took us all to that magical place of childhood innocence, where loyalty and friendship were more than just ideals and imagination could make the world into anything and everything we could want and hope it to be. The film was a smash success, both critically and commercially, and Pixar Studios were on their way. They have made 9 films since Toy Story, some more brilliant than others, but they all seem to come back to those essential ideas that were born in Toy Story: friendship, loyalty, imagination, adventure and goodness. Basic ideas, yes, but in Pixar’s creative and heartfelt hands, become magical.

Toy Story 2, in 1999, became the second sequel I had ever experienced to actually surpass the original (after Godfather II). Amazingly able to capture and even surpass all the tenderness and originality of the first installment, Toy Story 2 introduced new characters and furthered the story of our familiar friends, while pushing the technological boundaries (before 3-D, there was digital, and it looked amazing) and Pixar was, still, at the top of its game and of the industry.

A tough act to follow, now comes the third installment in Pixar’s tentpole series, Toy Story 3. Would there be any way to live up to the expectations, the standards and the hopes that a second sequel could even come close? Well, Toy Story 3 may not be as terrific as Toy Story 2, but it certainly is wonderful. And wonderful is more than enough for me.

Our old pals Woody and Buzz are back, of course, along with their friends from Toy Story 2, Jessie and my personal favorite, Bullseye, and the rest of the gang. I’m not going to ruin the story for those of you who still haven’t seen it, but let’s just suffice it to say that even more new characters are introduced, and by far the most fun part of Toy Story 3 is meeting the newbies.

Toy Story 3 is much more adventurous than its predecessors, and much more dark. Our heroes get themselves into some sticky situations and there are moments when it looks quite dim (a warning to parents with little ones who might get upset or scared at the thought of bad things happening to their lovable toy friends), but, thankfully, the days of Bambi are behind us (too late to salve the wounds of us 30-40-somethings that are forever traumatized) and a happy ending is never in doubt.

But speaking of the ending….yeah, everything you’ve heard is true. You’ll cry like a little girl and you’ll probably be asking yourself WHY. And the answer is the same one as if you ask yourself why Pixar movies are so successful. Because they know the human heart. We long for connections, and those connections begin as children with our toys. They are the purest, truest and most honest connections we might ever have in our lives, because they spring from our imaginations and they allow us to act out our fantasies, our dreams and our hopes for what the world could be. But, mostly, our toys are our friends, our companions, always there for us. It may seem sappy and sentimental, but the catharsis at the end of Toy Story 3 is so right and so real and cuts to the core of what we all are deep inside: an innocent child who loves totally, absolutely and unconditionally, and believes that we are loved the same way in return.

Toy Story 3 may be a fun romp with cute characters and top-of-the-line animation (3D does not enhance the film at all, by the way), but it is the sentimentality that makes it such a unique cinematic experience. If you have a heart and like movies that speak to it, this is one for you. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.