Remember that scene in Toy Story 2 where Jessie’s owner gets older and leaves her to gather dust, neglected, for years at a time, and you (well not you, of course, but a weaker person you know) cursed Pixar for making you (I mean your kid/girlfriend) weep uncontrollably at a cartoon about an inanimate object? Toy Story 3 is basically that scene, stretched out to 100-plus minutes. It’s a good film, maybe even a great one, and you won’t be complaining that the animators use the 3-D technology almost exclusively to enhance the depth of field in standard shot set ups rather than shooting projectiles at the audience for three very good reasons: 1) That’s exactly what filmmakers should be doing with it. 2) Day and Night, the short preceding the feature, takes advantage of the gimmick in a way that’s incredibly imaginative and probably unduplicatable, and 3) Those blocky plastic glasses will save you from having to wipe your eyes every few minutes. It’s one of only two films (the other being 2009’s soul-crushing Up) at which I can remember hearing an entire audience snorting back snot in chorus.
After Pixar’s Academy Award-winning attempt to rip out your heart and show it to you, it was a pretty safe bet that the third installment in their company-launching franchise — in which Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest grow worried about their collective future when owner Andy starts packing for college — would be a weepy rumination on the loss of childhood innocence disguised as a shiny CGI kids’ flick. Fortunately, TS3 milks its tears with nostalgia and sentimentality as opposed to outright emotional devastation, so you might even want to watch it twice.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away (just the fact that I’m worried about spoilers should tell you this is a considerably better than average “children’s movie”), but I will say the trilogy’s (and probably Pixar’s) greatest strength remains its creators’ legitimate concern for the realities of its characters, and the life of sentient toys would not be a very happy one: As their owner gets older, the purpose they serve diminishes until they meet one of a few unhappy fates: They’re either given away or sold in yard sales, packed up to be forgotten in a dusty attic, or thrown into the garbage. An early scene in which our heroes bury Andy’s cell phone in their toy box, on the off chance he’ll be overcome with the urge to play with them the next time he gets a call (“He actually touched me!” cries Wallace Shawn’s Rex after Andy briefly digs through the box to grab his phone and unceremoniously slams it shut again) is enough to get your tear ducts lubed and warn you that a bittersweet ending is about the best you can hope for.
In a conversation that may or may not have anything to do with this film, I asked my wife why so many children’s movies climax with the protagonists trapped on a conveyor belt moving them ever closer to elaborate dismemberment devices, and she said she thinks it’s because children fear aging and death because they’ve learned they’re unavoidable. Life is like an unstoppable conveyor belt dragging us increasingly closer to a horrifying end, and unlike in the cartoons, there’s no deus ex mechina coming to push the bright red button before our skulls meet the buzz-saw blade. With that in mind (thanks, honey!), Toy Story 3’s probably the best G-rated metaphor for death’s creeping, inevitable advance you’re likely to see all year.