Everyone said this movie was too "dark" for children. It's actually too clever. It successfully parodies film genres more than 40 years old.
When 17-year old Andy heads off to college, his mother forces him to clean out his room. He must choose what he wants to take with him to school, store in the attic or toss in the garbage. His toys have gone unplayed with for years and this is just the end of a road they saw coming along time ago. Forced to sort his possessions, Andy chooses to take his favorite toy cowboy Woody with him to college and to box all the rest up in the attic. They end up being thrown out by mistake and, along with Woody who tries to help them, escape the City Dump by stowing away in a box donated to the local Day Care.
At first glance, the Day Care looks idyllic and they are shown around the place by a friendly stuffed bear named Lotso, who tells them they'll be staying in the Caterpillar room. It's only after recess is over that they realize that the "Caterpillars" are toddlers who bang, tear, and eat on toys, playing with them within an inch of their lives. When they demand to be moved to a room with older children who know how to play properly, things become sinister. Buzz investigates after hours, busting in on a shady card game where the Day Care toys place their bets and spin a "Speak and Say" like a roulette wheel. He learns there's a dark side to the Day Care operations, where they plot to send the new toys to the toddler room where they'll be destroyed, while the toys in charge, live the good life. It's Animal Farm, by Mattel! The Day Care cartel is happy to let Buzz join their group, but when he insists upon equality for his friends too, he's taken hostage. Lotso and his band of thugs imprison Andy's toys, keeping them on strict lock down.
As they fight Lotso's evil forces, the movie becomes a combination of gangster film noir, prison caper and horror movie. There's Big Baby, a large, old baby doll with a lazy eye, who serves as Lotso's chief enforcer, manhandling the toy prisoners, while gurgling, cooing and toddling along shadowed corridors.
There's Chuckles the Clown who was there when Lotso first turned bad and tells Andy the story of the plush bear's (downfall), in a voice as dead as his frowning face.
There's the tight-jawed telephone toy, who tells Andy how to break out of the daycare joint, even though he thinks that escape is a lost cause.
There's the menacing mechanical monkey who watches all on daycare security cameras and alerts Lotso whenever anyone makes a move.
Toy Story plays on these celluloid cliches to bring us something creative, original and quite comical.
At 1 hour and 43 minutes, I never felt that the movie grabbed until the very end when we got a sequence at the garbage dump that went too long, with the toys eluding destruction one too many times.
Of course, they find freedom in the end. Back home at Andy's, Woody prepares to go off to college with Andy. He believes that it's more important to be there for the boy who has now outgrown him, than to be played with. Meanwhile, the other toys are heading for the attic. But they aren't despairing. After all, they have each other and after their terror time at the Day Care center, they are resigned to the peace and quiet of permanent storage.
At the last minute, Woody writes a note for Andy and leaves it on the box of toys fated for the attic. The note directs Andy to donate his old toys to "Bonnie" a young girl Woody met at Day Care with a wild imagination and fierce love for her toys. Andy obeys the note and takes the toys to a delighted Bonnie. He spends hours "introducing" her to them and making them come alive through play.
What Andy didn't expect when he gifted Bonnie with the box was that his beloved Woody was among the donated toys. Shocked to find the stuffed doll at the bottom of the box, Andy wants to keep him for himself, but Bonnie has played with Andy before. She's pulled his string and memorized his recorded messages. She already loves him, so Andy leaves Woody in good hands. Andy looks back before driving away and the answering stare from Woody's still eyes make tears form in my own. It turns out, Woody is even more emotive when he's inanimate than when he comes alive (outside of the presence of humans). I laughed. I cried. I marveled. I don't know if Toty Story 3 makes a good kids' movie, but it worked for this adult.
Closing concerns: Boy, they sure have regular garbage collection in that town. Day or night, the garbage trucks where Woody lives come by more often than the buses do in Los Angeles.
Hmmm, I was rather sorry when Jessie the stuffed cowgirl fell for Buzz the toy astronaut. After all, I always thought of her as Woody's girl. I suppose the change in her allegiance was ok when I thought that Woody was leaving his toy friends and going off to college with Andy, but now that he's staying, it feels kind of sad to have Woody on the sidelines while Buzz and Jessie tango. He tosses Jessie a rose to clutch in her teeth while she and Buzz sway. Even cowboys can be cuckholded.
I don't know what made Woody change his mind about going with Andy. As Andy packed for school, Woody overheard Andy's mom tell him that she wishes she could always be with him. Andy responds that she will. I guess Woody feels that he'll always be with Andy too, even if they're physically parted. But Andy will see his mother again. Woody may be gone for good. Since the beloved Andy was planning on taking Woody to school, why not go? Did Woody decide that maybe it was better to think of his own future for a change and go with his friend, rather than tagging along with an owner who was no longer a kid. Did Woody finally follow every one's advice and decide to stop hanging onto the past? It wasn't a bad decision on Woody's part, but it came out of left field. Woody had always been so resolute in his determination to stay with Woody. He felt he belonged to him -- after all that was "Andy's" name printed in magic marker on his boot.
I'm not sure what kind of future the toys have now. After all, Bonnie wasn't that young. She was just a little smaller than Molly who had already given up her own old toys (Molly's Barbie doll enjoyed an amusing subplot with Ken from Day Care). It won't be long before Bonnie outgrows the toys herself. Plus, even if she hangs on to some of them for sentimental reasons, surely her first allegiance will be to her original toys and not the ones most recently donated by Andy. Although the immediate future of the toys seems like an active, happy one, it also seems transient, fleeting. Of course, that's how the future is for humans as well. All you can do is live for the moment.
When the toys first realized that Andy might be dumping them, Woody tried to reason in the face of their panic: "We always knew this day was coming." Their answer: "But now it's here." Guess you can't really worry about it until it happens, but knowing that it's coming doesn't make the pain any less, when it arrives.
As someone who once wrote a poem about 'cobwebbed doll eyes watching the days past,' I actually think about neglected toys more than I should. It doesn't help that my mom gave my barbie dolls to a neighbor when I was 12, without bothering to ask me first. Then, within days of me moving to a college dorm, she trashed all the magazines, pictures, books and other mementos I'd spent an adolescence collecting. I have trouble letting go. No wonder I hear Woody's story in my own. No surprise there are 3 dolls in my house that I've owned for 30 years now . . . and counting.