Toy Story 3

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am

Featuring the voices of: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty
Director: Lee Unkrich
Category: I (English and Cantonese versions)

During Toy Story 3's first reel, there's an action sequence dubbed 'Operation Playtime'. It's a meticulously designed scheme in which the film's major characters - plastic playthings led by Woody the cowboy and Buzz Lightyear the astronaut - seek to draw the attention of their human master, Andy. The plan fails, consigning the toys to yet another bored day in a barely opened trunk. The key lies in how the boy has changed - just like how real time has moved on since the last two Toy Story films (which were released in 1995 and 1999). Andy is in his late teens, preparing to leave home for university, and his fascination with his toys (shown in 'home videos' which precedes the playtime scene) appears to be over. But Toy Story 3 defies the logic of diminishing returns: appearing more than a decade after the last instalment, Unkrich's entry retains the franchise's endearing qualities. The film boasts of, among others, the most hilarious scene involving a tortilla in the history of cinema. At the same time, Unkrich raises both the film's emotional intensity and the pop culture references. What proves the most winning, however, is how nothing ever rings false (or forced) in Toy Story 3, as the filmmakers present a comfortable, multi-layered mix which appeals to nearly every demographic.

The film begins as Andy starts clearing his room before his departure for life in a college dorm. The gang initially designated for storage in the attic, find themselves accidentally donated to Sunnyside, a children's daycare centre ruled as a fiefdom by one of the toys. Lotso, a purple bear whose cuddly appearance and strawberry scent belies a soul that is bitter, menacing and utterly cynical.

And at the centre of Toy Story 3's pulsating narrative is the group's attempt to escape from the confinement of Sunnyside and get back home before Andy departs. It's a journey that takes a detour through some flamenco dancing in the playground, a stand-off in back alleys (where Barbie makes an articulate denouncement against Lotso's tyranny) and apocalyptic visions at incinerators.

It ends with an intense scene involving Andy and a little girl next door, whose imagination and love towards her small playmates rivals the little boy's in 1995's Toy Story and brings the whole 15-year franchise to a full circle. And it's the last bit which is more representational of Toy Story 3 as a whole than the vibrant action sequences or funny knock-about of film genres (the melange of western and sci-fi pastiches that drives the film's fantastical opening sequence, or the nod to surveillance thrillers in the gang's escapade from Sunnycare).

This is a film driven by the sadness of abandonment - that of the gang, or of Lotso - and how redemption sometimes lies in letting go. Toy Story 3 still tries to override the disposability of commodities by stating how human beings could draw solace from them. This is what makes Toy Story 3 contemplative adult entertainment, when reflection comes in sincerity rather than irony - and with this film, Pixar has yet again produced something which amuses and moves, as Wall-E and Up did in the past few years.

Toy Story 3 opens today