Image courtesy of Pixar
Pixar Animation Studio’s Toy Story 3 arrives on DVD and Blu-ray today, and not a moment too soon. In a year when both multiplex and arthouse cinema have otherwise proven relatively disappointing, the third (and presumably final) chapter in the studio’s series about the secret lives of playthings is a breath of fresh air. Not only is it the paramount film of the trilogy, but it also solidifies Pixar’s post-Cars position at the apex of mainstream American cinema (animated or otherwise). Certainly, Toy Story 3 represents a giddy kind of homecoming for Pixar, as first-time director Lee Unkrich brings to the now-fifteen-year-old saga of Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear all of the thematic sophistication, emotional precision, and magnificent visual achievements that have characterized the studio’s most recent features. Unkrich never loses sight of the franchise’s fundamental appeal as a refined extension of childhood fantasy, and the film functions marvelously as a nimble tale of pint-sized adventure and peril in the wilderness of suburbia. However, what make Toy Story 3 such a success is the astonishing and often harrowing depths it presents to adults (and kids) who are willing to plunge into the film’s rich explorations of rejection, obsolescence, and, yes, mortality. Heady stuff for what is ostensibly a children’s feature, but Unkrich presents these themes with such grace, and surrounds them in so many authentic thrills and laughs, that the film never descends into the dismal. Its solicitous and often wrenching treatment of endings and new beginnings proves a natural fit for the final chapter of the saga. In the end, the Toy Story series is triumphantly revealed for what it always was: nothing less than the whole of the human experience, writ in plastic.