There are very few truly excellent trilogies, all too often there’s one part that lets it down, or in The Matrix’s case two, and sometimes they just stick on a fourth part which stops it being a trilogy. In my mind there are just five trilogies that pull it off properly, these being- Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the Evil Dead trilogy which works because all three parts are different, Christopher Nolan’s Bat-Movies, the original trio of Star Wars movies and these three movies, the Toy Story trilogy.
There’s word that a fourth is coming, but I may just have to do a Jurassic Park and mentally erase it from my mind, because these three movies work perfectly as a trio.
The first movie came out in 1995 and was pretty ground breaking, a feature length CG animation movie which saw the arrival of Pixar, who would become one of the animation powerhouses. Even at nearly 20 years old the animation of this movie still holds up and looks wonderful, sure, the sequels improved, but this still hasn’t dated in the way that some of Disney’s 80s animation has or ‘90s visual effects have.
It’s all based on a fantastically cool high concept, which is sure to appeal to kids everywhere, what if your toys were really alive? But it’s far more than just a neat idea.
The movie follows Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), the favourite toy of a young boy, Andy. Things are pretty cool for Woody until Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear toy (voiced by Tim Allen), who slowly starts to replace him. Unlike Woody and the others, Buzz is unaware he is actually a toy, believing himself to be a real space ranger.
Ultimately they become friends and have to work together, Buzz realizes he’s a toy, but Woody helps him understand that this is a wonderful thing and that he can bring joy to Andy’s life.
The sequels build on the friendship and introduce new characters as well as continuing to deal with issues surrounding love, friendship and the fears of being abandoned, forgotten or replaced. There’s too much plot to go into here, but the second movie sees Woody get damaged and worry about being cast aside, which is shown in a truly unsettling nightmare sequence. Stolen by a toy collector his faith wavers, before Buzz rescues him and he remembers being loved by Andy and seeing him grow up is what he wants.
In the third movie Andy is growing up and going to college and the toys fear he’s discarding them. Only Woody keeps the faith but at the end he has to realize that it’s time to let go, for Andy to go off and grow up and for him to stay with the other toys and bring fun to the life of a new child, Bonnie.
Each movie is magnificently written, crammed full with wonderful humour, thrilling stories and exploring the characters so that they become rounded, relatable and loved by the audience. The humour is pitched just right, with plenty of silly gags for the kids but clever, witty ones aimed at the parents.
There are sight gags, references to other films, quips and slapstick, but the film succeeds because it gets you engaged with the characters. Woody, helped by Tom Hanks’ fantastic voice work, is the most likable character for older viewers- noble, heroic, but with a sarcastic streak. He’s really who the movies follow most closely and it’s his fears that are the subject for each flick.
In the third movie he’s the true believer who stays loyal to Andy and that’s what makes his final decision all the more touching. He still loves Andy, and is honoured to have watched him grow, but knows the time has come to move on and help make Bonnie’s childhood fun.
It’s an ending that works on lots of different levels, with parents being able to view Woody’s decision to let go as mirroring the way they’ll have to step back a little as their kids grow up. While for small children it is Woody saying goodbye and they can imagine having to put away their own toys for good. As for folks in my age group, who grew up with the movies, its realizing that we may have to grow up too and missing our childhoods.
It’s saying something these three animated movies each include at least one moment that jerks the tear ducts. In the first there’s the moment when Buzz finally realizes he’s a toy, and is devastated, but rallies to fly, and soundtracked by Randy Newman leaps for the window only to fall. It’s a magnificent scene that I’ve found more touching on repeat viewings.
Of course, it’s nothing compared to the musical knockout “When She Loved Me”, where Jessie the Cowgirl sings about her old owner and we see her being set aside as the girl grew up. If you can stay cool and collected throughout that then you’re a damned robot or something.
But the third movie is a rollercoaster of emotion. The farewell at the end will have you choked up, but the real emotional gutshot comes earlier. As the group of toys are slowly being swept towards the incinerator they scrabble against the avalanche of rubbish, fighting to escape and then in a painfully quiet moment Jessie stops and extends a hand to Bullseye to reassure him, and all the toys link hands, with Woody being the last to stop fighting. Linked together in a chain they advance towards the flames, together and accepting of their fate. Just thinking about it has choked me up again and Kevin Smith’s description of it as “Schindler’s List with toys” seems more than just a glib, throwaway line. In that moment you’re utterly destroyed as a viewer.
We watched it in my flat last year, and as with all movies there was a smattering of jokes throughout, but during this scene one of the guys who hadn’t seen the flick before cut off an attempted gag, sitting forward and utterly gripped by the drama on screen.
It’s one thing to make a good film about toys, it’s another to make one that puts the audience through the emotional wringer and can reduce people to tears. Pixar managed to pull that off three times, and that’s why it’s a great trilogy, if not the best.
I grew up with these films, and they mark different stages in my life, but I think whatever your age when you first see them, these movies will have an effect and will go on to be regarded as classics of not just animated film, but film in general. Simply sensational.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.