Toy Story 3 is as good as any movie Pixar Studios has made, and better than a few of them. But when you consistently achieve excellence, there's this problem: people start expecting more. A merely excellent movie is not enough. Each one must be more suspenseful, surprising, original, hilarious, and emotionally satisfying than the last. Each success becomes a rack on which the next attempt is measured.
Since some of the characters in Toy Story 3 are returning from earlier films, the challenge to make each film more original than the last was more difficult. So, as I watched, I tried to imagine how I'd feel about this movie if I'd encountered it first among the Toy Story series. I'd be tempted to say it's Pixar's best film, I think—though when I recall The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Monsters, Inc., it's a close call. Toy Story 3 is excellent, as usual, but we've seen some of this excellence before.
The film opens with a funny, exciting action sequence which introduces most of the toy friends. Cowboy hero Woody is trying to stop One-Eyed Bart (a.k.a. Mr. Potato Head) and Evil Dr. Porkchop (a piggy bank, but it's "Mr. Evil Dr. Porkchop to you") from sending a trainload of orphans (troll dolls) plummeting from a dynamited bridge. As terrific as this is, I was a little worried that Pixar had abandoned their human-scale storytelling for something more flashy. Never fear: this scene turns out to be in the imagination of their owner, Andy, about seven years old. (We're watching him play on a videotape his mom is making, recalling the delightful movie-within-movie openings of Monsters, Inc and Up.)
But as Randy Newman gravel-trucks his way through the beloved Toy Story theme song, at the words, "As the years go by, our friendship ...