The Joy of the Toy in 'Toy Story' / 'Toy Story 2' / 'Toy Story 3'

These films are not only completely entertaining, but they are also uplifting, funny, and heartbreaking – a beautifully rendered trilogy that stands at the top of Pixar’s excellent output of movies.

Toy Story 3

Distributor: Walt Disney
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusak, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris
Directors: John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon
Rated: G
Release date: 2011-11-01

Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy has spanned 15 years, put forth striking advancements in computer animation, and produced one of the most satisfying movie franchises of all time. A series that has taken the childhood toys of one boy and transformed them into full, three-dimensional characters and created a strong emotional connection to them seems almost unthinkable in concept. Yet, Pixar has managed to transform these universal artifacts into more than just things, but connections to our childhoods.

Toy Story, released in 1995, has the distinction of being the first full length computer animated movie. It's the story of a toy, a cowboy named Woody, who serves as the de-facto leader of all the other toys in Andy’s room. However, when Andy gets a new Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday, Woody is suddenly threatened by Buzz’s popularity. Gradually the two build a friendship that carries through in all three movies, but not without certain insecurities.

Initially, Buzz believes himself to be an actual astronaut and it’s only through Woody’s relentless insistence that he finally realizes he’s a toy. The back and forth, up and down dynamic of Woody and Buzz’s friendship is both amusing and moving, and they serve as the main protagonists in the trilogy.

Five years later, Toy Story 2 was released and expectations for the sequel were understandably high. The second film took a different tack in offering life from the perspective of a toy, as Woody becomes the sought after missing piece of a collector’s set. Life in a pristine and well-maintained box may be easier, but it goes against everything the previous movie instilled in its audience: toys are meant to be played with, and they are happiest when they are part of a child’s life.

Toy Story 2 also introduces the audience to a part of Woody’s past – a part that he wasn’t even aware of – that of the popular star of his own cowboy television show. The pure joy that Woody experiences from discovering his former life is only eclipsed by the happiness he feels as a well-loved and used toy. In introducing Jessie (along with Pete and Bullseye) as part of his television show, and the accompanying figures in the collectible set Woody is a part of, he serves as a kind of mentor to her and eventually, as a way for her to reconnect with a child again.

It would be another ten years before Toy Story 3 premiered in 2010, but it was certainly worth the wait. The culmination of all three movies, and in some ways, of Pixar’s entire output up top that point, the movie is a brilliant continuation of the franchise in that it stays true to the now larger cast of characters, and still manages to tell a new story with them.

As Andy is getting older and going off to college, the toys all begin to worry about their fates: the dreaded trash can, or being put on display at a yard sale, left to collect dust in the attic, or leaving with Andy. The toys eventually get inadvertently donated to the Sunnyside Daycare center and the series takes a decidedly darker turn. While initially seeming like a toy paradise with so many children to play with, it quickly becomes clear that there is a hierarchy in place and an old stuffed bear, Lotso, is in charge.

Lotso offers a shift in tone for the Toy Story movies. His sad backstory has turned him into a manipulative, selfish, and bitter toy only out for his own interests. In introducing a character so seemingly irredeemable, Toy Story 3 moves further into more ambiguous and adult storytelling, and in turn, tells a richer story with more at stake. Despite the sinister undertones to Lotso’s role in the movie, Toy Story 3 still retains the humor so integral to the trilogy.

All three of the Toy Story films are a blend of smart and witty observations, and broader physical and slapstick comedy. They are able to make excellent use of both in terms of highlighting character traits, as well as lending certain action-packed scenes a bit of levity. By bringing humor to the stories, the films are better able to balance the more muted and emotional moments, such as Jessie’s back story and the brilliantly bittersweet ending of Toy Story 3. In fact, that final scene in Toy Story 3 is perhaps the best encapsulation of all three films in that it achieves closure for the characters that is true to them, all the while making Andy’s ultimate choice both heartbreaking and the right one.

The emotional resonance of the three films has always been an essential component of their success. Toy Story imbues these characters – not only Woody and Buzz, but a larger cast of supporting, but integral fellow toys – with real feelings and reactions. They feel real because they act real, and in doing so they go beyond a by-the-numbers superficial cartoon to a fully realized and meaningful film.

In the end, these movies are about childhood and imagination. They resonate because the bond that children feel with their toys, and the stories they create for their toys, feel universal. The inspire nostalgia of the best kind, the connection to a more innocent time in all our lives. The Toy Story films are not only completely entertaining, but they are also uplifting, funny, and heartbreaking – a beautifully rendered trilogy that stands at the top of Pixar’s excellent output of movies.

These new Blu-ray editions of the DVDs offer tons of extras that include the original bonus features from the earlier editions, as well as newer ones. They offer commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and excellent Pixar shorts.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.