As much as I liked the first two Toy Story films, I was a little miffed that Pixar would consider doing a third. The first two were good fun and also struck deep emotional chords, but why do a third? Was it the nature of all things threes to get some closure to the characters and the story? Well...yeah, I guess, and Pixar doesn't seem to be making any apologies for it, which is commendable.
The third film brings the band back together, headed by Woody (Tom Hanks, Angels & Demons), Buzz (Tim Allen, Wild Hogs) and Jessie (Joan Cusack, My Sister's Keeper), along with the other cast members based on popular children's toys, all part of the bedroom of the young boy Andy. The story finds Andy on the cusp of going to college. This important next step in his life finds the toys on the edge of being neglected, but they are accidentally given to a day care center. The play from the young kids is good, but as young children do, the playtime leaves the toys with their fair share of bumps and bruises from being thrown, dragged and chewed on. The toy that appears to be the "boss" of the day care center is Lots-o'Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty, Deliverance), a worn but still plush pink teddy bear. He's old and has a bit of a homespun elderly southern gentleman spin to him, but his rule is iron-fisted. While Woody was fortunate to land in other circumstances, playing with a young girl named Bonnie, he wants to free his friends from this punishment.
The big creative guns at Pixar were brought in to handle this final chapter of the Toy Story franchise, with John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton (responsible for the first two films) tackling the story and Lee Unkrich, who handled the editing of the first two films and co-directed the second, taking full directorial rein of the third (Michael Arndt, writer of the excellent Little Miss Sunshine was responsible for the screenplay). There's little doubt the film serves as a cinematic hail and farewell of sorts to the dolls that made things fun and exciting for everyone, but rather than stick to that theme, the story decides to inject character conflict that feels both derivative and slightly longer than necessary. We all know this is going to be it, so let's get to it already!
However when it does get to the character resolution, it's a worthwhile experience. Andy's going away, and the toys he's played with have been part of his identity (and our entertainment) for years now. And in transitioning to college and this new part of his life, he's losing this identity that we've known for so long. The result brings a touching and fitting end to the story that Lasseter and Stanton have cultivated through the years.
Yet for where we find Andy in his life and it seems pretty fitting what he and his toys do, I still can't get behind the film's second act, not to mention the character conflict that sets it up. I get that people might want to put their heads down and appreciate the ride, really I do. But after seeing how Woody might have been threatened by Buzz' presence as the new toy in the first film, along with Jessie recounting her abandonment in the sequel, the likelihood of Andy not playing with his toys was hanging over the film too much (I thought) without the unnecessary roller coaster ride the toys had to go through to get to that point in this one.
At the end of the day it might not be where the toys started in all three films, it's where they finish. That's what makes the Pixar creators so good. They're willing to sacrifice the things that happen in that second act for a tissue-packed third. I didn't shed any tears, but seeing the characters' arc over three movies wrap up the way they did had me nod my head in approval. Well done, Pixar, well done indeed.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Toy Story 3 is presented in 1.78:1 high-definition using the AVC codec. I think at this point all of us can appreciate how beautiful the Pixar films look on Blu-ray by now, yes? And with that given out of the way, you can appreciate the smaller things in the frame, the more subtle detail notes both in the foreground and background. Character details are more noticeable than they have been in previous films, and textures on the more anonymous items (like the boxes the toys are put in) look so realistic you wonder occasionally if they're practically shot somehow. The third act trash incinerator looks so real you can almost feel the heat, and smaller scenes that use the neighborhood around Andy and the day care center look as lifelike as can be. Another Pixar title, another top-notch presentation.
There is not a lot of action early on in the film, but when it gets going sonically, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless track packs the punch that reminds you of how much quality the Pixar soundtracks bring to the table. When used, channel panning is clear and effective, directional effects are clear and well-placed, and the subwoofer activity provides the low end required to deliver the goods. The soundtrack replicates all the action accurately and without concern, and the experience results in quality listening material.
You get your choice of editions both with standard def and digital copies of the film (which is the copy I'm reviewing) or without. With the BD/SD edition, there's no less than four discs in a slightly wider than normal BD case, but a note to viewers, there's some bonus content overlap over the discs, albeit minimally.
Disc One starts with "Day and Night" (6:05), the Pixar short that appeared in front of Toy Story 3 in theaters. It's a cute and quick piece with two creatures that could best be described as a mix of old and new school animation. "Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science of Adventure" (4:30) is a NASA-themed piece on space travel voiced by some of the film's characters, and "Toys!" (6:37) covers just how many different varieties of toys there are in the film, and the piece focuses on the main toys and works outward. There's even a Spanish illustrator who Pixar hired to help draw "Spanish Buzz" and shows what he did to help get this essence properly. Neat stuff which helps scratch the surface of the work done in a Pixar production. There is a commentary for the film, but it's found on the third disc/SD copy. Unkrich and producer Darla Anderson as they talk about the challenges in this film, story ideas, how they revamped the animation and anecdotal stories gained from the production. It's worth listening to for fans of the film.
The meat of the material is on the second disc, which retains the commentary, albeit in Cine-Explore fashion, incorporating story boards, conceptual drawings and a bevy of other material as a subtitled track to go along with the commentary. While the commentary isn't all that bad, the Cine-Explore mode on the second disc increases the appreciation of the film for fans of it. Why it's not on the first disc I don't know, but it's worth going over here. There's a second commentary with members of the Pixar animation team that includes more information about the film is far more detailed and drier form, but if you're a fan for the technical stuff, this is also a worthwhile track to listen to if you want to further appreciate the film.
The rest of Disc Two is broken into four sections. The "Film Fans" section starts with "Rounding Up a Western Opening" (5:42), which examined the film's first sequence with a mix of storyboards and footage. "Bonnie's Roundtable" (6:26) includes Unkrich (among others) as he talk about how the Bonnie character and how they got to where they did with her in the film. "Setting a Story in Motion" includes story breakdown/script structure for those interested in writing a story or screenplay, as it discusses character conflicts, act explanations and the like. "Life of a Shot" (6:57) looks at a part of the opening sequence with brief recollections from the Pixar crew involved in it, from the trivial to the substantial. The "Making of Day and Night" (2:00) is just that, but just as quickly as it appears, it's gone. The "Studio Stories" section includes three interesting recollections from Pixar employees as they discuss things like a cereal bar (1:36), a tradition of head shaving (3:05) and a Constanza-esque hiding spot for Pixar animator Andrew Gordon (2:16). The "Family Play" section starts with "Goodbye Andy" (8:02), as the illustrators talk about the challenges in drawing so many grown-ups this go round and the challenges of making them look realistic without being overly so. "Accidental Toymakers" (3:56) looks at how Pixar became a force in the toy market with the film's characters, while "Toy's Eye View: Creating a Whole New Land" (5:19) looks at how Lasseter incorporates the film's lore into a couple of Disney theme parks. "Epilogue" (4:23) covers the film's closing credit sequence, sans credits. The "Publicity" section includes a quick reel of test motion footage (4:00), followed by "Ken's Dating Tips" (1:30), three quick faux TV spots with one of the new characters from the film. Speaking of faux commercials, 80's era commercials with Lotso are next (1:00), one for US and one for Japan audiences, and a making of those commercials to boot (1:28). Three other quick pieces titled "Internet Chat" (1:00), "Security Cam" (1:12) and "Gadgets" (:58) are next and aside from "Cam" being a clever spoof of horror films, can be skipped. "Dancing with the Stars at Pixar" (2:21) shows a couple of the show's dancers at the studio showing off. There are seven trailers (five US, two Japan) of varying length, along with character introductions (2:00) and a poster gallery. The "Games and Activities" portion includes a BD-Live enabled trivia game.
Disc three includes the earlier-mentioned commentary with the standard definition copy of the film, along with a piece called "Path to Pixar" (4:38), which explains how some crew members got into the editorial department and what inspired them. "The Gang's All Here!" (10:21) includes the old cast talking about returning one more time, and the new cast members talk about the privilege of being included for the film. It's the closest thing you'll set to a cast-involved piece here. Some of the earlier extras are brought to the disc too. Disc Four houses the digital copy for download to your device of choice.
Toy Story 3 might not be the best movie within the Woody and Buzz trilogy of films, but it looks and sounds the best of them. From an extras perspective it's a little lacking, not to mention some of the extras have been repeated (conceptually, at least) from previous Pixar editions. I wouldn't put it into the Collector's Series next to the other two, but it's a strong recommendation for the sake of closure.