The original Toy Story was released in cinemas in 1995, and instantly became a cinematic classic. The original gained mass appeal for two major reasons: its cutting edge technology (first animated feature to be entirely made of CGI), and it was genuinely entertaining to both children and adults. I believe those two reasons played a big part in revolutionizing how the animated film industry functioned from that point on. Though, the technological innovations were a massive factor in the film's success, I actually think the story being written to appeal to all age groups was the biggest factor in its lasting success and influence.
I recognize that cartoons have always had an appeal to certain adults, but it was the original Toy Story that turned animated features into products that are clearly marketed to a very broad audience. Films like Snow White or the Jungle Book have always done gangbusters at the box office, but they were undeniably labeled as children or family films. Toy Story was one of the first films where adults without children would freely go to see the production without having to point at a child and claim, 'Um, yeah, I'm with that kid. Honest, I'm not seeing a kid movie alone!' Because the movie was legitimately seen as a blockbuster hit and must see without 'kid film' attached to the end. This was partly due to the fact the CGI effects were so innovative and buzz worthy, but it was also because the story was extremely well written. And it wasn't "well written for a kid's movie" but actually, just a well written movie. Period. The film was jam packed with jokes and references that were written solely for an adult's amusement. Yet the film still was able to be a colossal success among children, thus creating a merchandising and branding empire that has consistently remained strong from 1995 until today.
This strategy and model was then blatantly copied by 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks' animation studios to create their own massively successful franchises in Ice Age and Shrek respectively. Both of those films followed the CGI route, but also produced stories that were clearly designed to appeal to both children and adults. Toy Story, Shrek, and Ice Age all have pop culture references and jokes that were written specifically for adults, but still created characters that are marketed towards children. All three franchises have been indisputable successes, but Toy Story was the film to usher in this 'new' animation era and arguable has been the most successful.
Yes, there are definitely three major profitable animation studios (four if you want to argue that Disney is/was separate from Pixar), but when it comes to the company that is a consistent financial and critical winner, then you have to give the edge to Pixar. When it comes to Pixar, the crown jewel of the animation empire is none other than Toy Story.
Now, after all that praise, the question remains does Toy Story 3 live up to the legacy and hype? Before going to see the movie, you are almost destined to have the lingering feeling that the film is set up to disappoint. How many franchises have been able to deliver three consistent hits? It has happened on a rare occasion, but the reality is, sequels are usually about as enjoyable as doing self appointed dental work with a power tool. The odds of success are even less likely when you dip in for round three. Plus there is the whole problem with the film having an eleven year wait since the previous installment, which leaves a lot of time for over hype and high anticipation.
But you know what?
Toy Story 3 is a fantastic movie. And note, I didn't say, a fantastic kid's movie, because once again, it is a film that appeals to all ages. I legitimately laughed out loud on several occasions, and was sucked into the story from the very beginning. When it comes to an animated feature that can be enjoyed by an adult, Pixar films are far more successful than the other two studios. I recently watched Ice Age again shortly after seeing this film, and I was shocked to realize how far above the story and writing in Toy Story is compared to the other film. The most unbelievable thing about that, is the more appealing film for adults is completely based around children toys. Then again, maybe that is why the film is such a success among adults, because many of the characters are toys they can remember from their own childhood. At the beginning of Toy Story 3, I was letting out a huge burst of laughter and nodding my head knowingly once the Troll dolls made a cameo appearance. Their inclusion had to be an obvious wink to the adults in the audience, because I'm pretty sure the toys would be considered 'collector's items' now (aka kids today don't want or know them).
Toy Story 3 follows the lead of its predecessors by being an absolutely fun movie for adults, that still contains a warm and family friendly message. It uses the toys as a way to convey the themes of friendship, love, growing up and loyalty. The movie displays that over time things can change and relationships are redefined, but the love and connection will always remain at some level. The film also pushes the idea that good memories are invaluable treasures, and a gem that may sometimes get buried over the passage of time but is never completely lost. These really are messages that have to be considered fairly deep for a supposed 'kid movie', and the type of stuff that is often not even effectively explored in 'big people movies'. But Toy Story 3 is extremely successful in making an emotional connection, as well as just being a lot of fun to watch. That is the most important part of all, being a fun movie. When I walked out of the theatre after the film, I legitimately felt I was just as entertained and impressed with the third as I was when I first saw the original. Of course, I haven't seen the first one in a very long time, thus haven't made a fair comparison, but I do know both movies proved to me to be more than just kid fluff but actually, great cinematic accomplishments.
Now, I admit that Toy Story may be a film that I can relate to more than your typical adult. Because when I watch Andy or some of the other children on the screen play with the toys, I can actually see myself as a child. I was the type of kid that absolutely loved playing with toys. I didn't have many neighbourhood kids my age, and so I spent a lot of quality time with just my toys. Much like Andy, I would often create my own worlds and story lines with my toys, and would immerse myself completely into this fantasy world for hours. It didn't matter that He-Man was three times taller than my Han Solo figure or that my stuffed Wuzzle didn't seem to fit with my Megatron, because in my toy world, they all found a way to work together to form the bigger story. I cherished my play with the toys and I still have fond memories of them. Actually, to be completely honest, I look forward to one day having a child of my own, because then I'll have an excuse to revisit that world again.
If you were ever a child that enjoyed entering the world of make belief with their toys, then Toy Story 3 will be a film that will bring back those great memories. If you weren't one of those kids, then you will still enjoy a funny, warm and exciting fantasy adventure. Yes, Toy Story is still a technological marvel with amazing animation, but even more than that, it is a story that connects with everyone from kid, adults and 'grown up' kids, too.