For those wondering, this review is of the 2D version of Toy Story 3. In the weeks leading up to Toy Story 3 I found myself essentially unmoved by the prospect of the movie. I wasn’t dreading it, obviously, but I also wasn’t excited about it. I kind of didn’t care. I fully expected the movie to be quite good – Pixar has made only one truly bad movie, and that’s Cars – but I didn’t understand why it needed to exist in the first place. Having seen the movie I still don’t quite understand. There was no need for a Toy Story 3. The film doesn’t wrap up the tale of Andy’s toys in any meaningful way; the ending is more or less a reboot, leaving the door wide (and organically) open for a Toy Story 4. And the plot of the film itself is pretty much a rehash of what has come before, and I think the basic themes were already better handled in the far, far superior Toy Story 2. In fact early on in Toy Story 3 Jessie says ‘This is just like what happened with Emily,’ referencing the girl who outgrew her in the last film, and I couldn’t help but agree with her. Toy Story 3 has the toys, now a much smaller group after years of yard sales and house cleanings, facing the prospect of Andy, their owner, going off to college. He hasn’t played with them for years and now they wonder if they’ll get stored in the attic – with the hope of one day being found by Andy’s kids – or thrown out. Eventually the toys escape on their own and end up at Sunnyside Day Care, which at first seems like heaven for toys but turns out to be a prison run by a nasty warden named Lotso Hugs. Even though all of this feels sort of familiar, it’s very, very well done. Director Lee Unkrich really digs in to the world of prison movies and there’s a massive and awesome Cool Hand Luke feel to the proceedings, complete with Mr. Potato Head ending up in The Box. There’s a lot of fun had in the Sunnyside scenes, even though the movie is often very dark. Every one of the beloved characters get a turn (and I mean just the beloved – they’ve cut the cast to the bone, eliminating every toy that isn’t a merch seller. Sorry, Bo Peep!), and there are lots of cool, exciting prison break moments along the way. The film also introduces a handful of strong new characters. There’s Ken and Barbie, with Ken’s metrosexuality making for some funny (but weirdly out of place in a kid’s film) gags. There’s Big Baby, the enforcer in the prison. And then there’s Lotso himself, wonderfully voiced by Ned Beatty, doing a Strother Martin-esque Southern authority figure. I feel like Toy Story 3 sort of drops the ball on the main characters – nobody really has any room to grow anymore – but Lotso is probably one of the best, most intriguing and most nuanced characters in the Pixar canon. Lotso’s story is one of a loss of faith, and while I don’t agree with the film’s thematic assertions – by no longer believing in God, or in the case of the toys, the children, Lotso becomes broken and bad – it’s a compelling and moving arc. That’s saying something for a stuffed bear who smells of strawberries. I do wish that the rest of the characters had stories as compelling as Lotso’s. Unfortunately most of our characters have had their completed arcs and so while they get plenty of business in Toy Story 3 they don’t get deeper moments. There are nice character beats, especially in a subtle theological disagreement between Buzz and Woody (Buzz and the gang think Andy has turned on them, while Woody knows that the Lord remains benevolent), but it doesn’t get enough play. In fact the movie really underplays the potential contrast between Buzz and the gang’s journey towards loss of faith with Lotso’s complete lack of it. Part of the reason is that Toy Story 3 is, in a lot of ways, mostly an action film. The last act is a long, thrilling and edge of your seat escape, and it has scenes of danger so intense and believable that even I – a grown up who knows that there’s no way Disney lets Woody get killed – felt seriously, deeply concerned about the safety of the characters. I was honestly frightened for our heroes in some scenes (which I guess means that younger viewers could be scared shitless). Unkrich and the team at Pixar have put together a series of escapes that will overshadow every other action picture released this summer, and probably next as well. There are a lot of interesting deeper thematic things going on in Toy Story 3 – it feels like a very Christian movie, with the concept of being in servitude to God as the guiding principle in any life, and it even tackles politics (general, not specific) in intriguing ways – but none of these things make the film feel necessary. It’s very good, and it’s an enjoyable time at the theater being entertained by the modern wizards of storytelling. But there’s a downside to being Pixar, and that is that we expect a lot out of you. Toy Story 3 would be an unthinkable stroke of genius from Dreamworks, especially the way it seamlessly and subtly works in adult references and situations into the second act prison scenes, but from the people who brought us Up it feels a bit like treading water. Toy Story 2 remains the best of the series, and 3 has to step behind the first film to hold up the rear. That rear is still miles ahead of the output of any other animation house in the world, but when graded on the Pixar curve Toy Story 3 feels, even for all its scariness and darkness, kind of weightless.