TIME's Review of Toy Story 3: 'An Instant Classic'

Even CGI studios have to grow up sometime. With Toy Story 3, Pixar ponders what's next

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Disney / Pixar

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The Philosophy of Toys
In Toy Story 3, Andy is now a teenager, ready to go to college and wondering what to do with the toys that nurtured him through kidhood but that he hasn't played with for years. Unkrich admits that this is a dilemma he and his colleagues haven't had to face. "Pixar," he says, "is filled with people who don't get rid of their toys."

Lasseter, whose office at the company's Lego-like headquarters in Emeryville, Calif., is crammed with hundreds of gewgaws from his films, is an expert on the secret life of toys. "If something inanimate were to come to life," he posits, "it would want to do what it's been manufactured to do. A toy wants to be played with by a child, to make that child happy. If it's not played with, that causes severe anxieties. If a toy is lost, it can be found. If broken, it can be repaired. The one thing toys are most anxious about is being outgrown, because there's no way that can be fixed."

Andy's toys are a needy bunch. Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks) is the leader and the most loyal among them, in part because he's Andy's favorite. The cloth cowboy suffered a case of battery envy when Buzz (Tim Allen) joined the team in Toy Story and a displacement complex when a toy collector filched him in TS2. But now trauma looms over all his friends: Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex the Dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark) and the rest.

Like many working stiffs, the toys fret about losing their jobs; like adopted children, they fear being sent back. There's a touch of Stockholm syndrome in their dependence on Andy — once their playmate, now their inattentive jailer, their absent God or Godot. With Andy heading off to college, the toys could be relegated to the attic. Or worse, the dump truck.

Hey, guys, come to Sunnyside Day Care! It has kids galore — no toy left behind — and new friends: Ken (Michael Keaton), enthralled to finally find his Barbie (Jodi Benson), and Lotso (Ned Beatty), a folksy stuffed bear with a strawberry scent. If only the 2-year-olds to whom Buzz and the rest are assigned as playthings weren't such violent little beasts. If only Lotso didn't have a hidden agenda. If only the toys from the first two films didn't have to attempt a great escape that leads to ... well, we said the movie is intense. Unkrich calls it "taking toys to their endgame."

The Next Generation
What's a happy end for a toy? Perhaps to be passed on to the next generation of kids. Pixar may be approaching a similar torch-passing. So far, nearly every Pixar feature has been directed by a man who has been with the company since its founding; the only exceptions (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) are the films helmed by Brad Bird, a college friend of Lasseter's who joined a decade ago. Pixar releases just one feature each year, a schedule that has created a talent logjam at the top (Pete Docter waited eight years between Monsters, Inc. and Up) and the risk that gifted, ambitious, younger animators might be lured to another studio.

Now, by chance and design, the kids will get their shot. Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL•E) is away filming John Carter of Mars; Bird, the fourth Mission: Impossible feature. And the studio will release three movies in 2011-12: a sequel to Cars, a film involving the Monsters, Inc. characters and Brave, the first Pixar feature directed by a woman (Brenda Chapman, who also helmed DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt). "With Andrew and Brad off in live action," says Unkrich, "it makes sense that we'd be nurturing the next generation of Pixar."

Yet continuity remains a studio hallmark. John Morris, the child who voiced Andy in the first two films, is back as older Andy. And next year there'll be a short film with the same characters. Some toys — and Toy Storys — are to be treasured forever.

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