The Toy Story trilogy is the crowning achievement of Pixar Animation Studios. It’s one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time, and is my personal second favorite, coming in just barely under another trilogy (though I love them both so much it might as well be a tie). The three that make it up are each brilliant in their own ways, and they add up to tell a complete tale of a boy growing up, and how much his toys care for him. For more than a decade, the Toy Story series lay dormant, with first two movies being adored, but slowly dripping into obscurity. Then, in 2010, Toy Story 3 exploded onto the scene and became easily one of the best third movies ever made, and rounding off the series so well that it truly felt like the Toy Story movies deserved to join the ranks of the most beloved and iconic movie trilogies. While on their own merits each of the movies is great, my own personal experience with them elevates them just a bit higher.
The first Toy Story was one of the first movies I ever saw. It was released in theaters when I was three years old, and while I don’t think I saw it in theaters, I distinctly remember watching the VHS many times, despite not actually owning it. As much as I enjoyed the movie as a kid, my appreciation for it only grew with time. It must have been amazing back in 1995 to see a fully computer animated movie, and while it might not look nearly as impressive as today’s animated movies, Toy Story still holds up pretty well in terms of animation. Okay, the humans look pretty bad, but thankfully, they’re not in the movie all that much. Animation aside, though, it’s really just a great movie in its own right. In 81 minutes, it briskly tells the story of Woody and Buzz Lightyear going from mortal enemies, vying for their owner Andy’s affection. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s thought-provoking, and it really has to be one of the most likeable movies ever made. Like really, have you ever met someone who disliked Toy Story? Just as with Back to the Future, if you have met someone who doesn’t at least like Toy Story, consider them soulless.
Though I don’t think I ever saw Toy Story 1 in theaters, I do vividly remember seeing the sequel in theaters when it came out in 1999. And like the first movie, I loved it, and have only grown to appreciate it more over time. The incredible thing about the first movie was just the fact that it was the first computer animated movie ever, and Pixar certainly had some roadblocks on their way to getting it made. But nothing compared to their troubles with getting Toy Story 2 made. Disney originally planned for it to be a straight to video release (and those always turn out well, don’t they?) but quickly decided to release it in theaters. John Lasseter, the director on the first movie, came on board midway through production and decided to scrap almost everything and start over on the movie – mere months before it was to be released. The fact that Toy Story 2 was released to as much acclaim as the first movie, and with significantly better animation, must be some kind of miracle.
In my opinion, it’s probably the weakest of the three movies, but then, it’s still an amazing movie. It’s just that, the first movie starts things off perfectly, and the third finishes things off perfectly, while the second movie is really just another adventure that the characters go on. In the grand scheme of the trilogy, all it really accomplishes is introducing a couple new characters (namely, Jesse and Bullseye) and, more importantly, the idea that Andy will grow up, and will one day outgrow the toys. But that’s no reason to think any less of the movie, as it’s still a great sequel, and absolutely worth watching. Being the worst (or, as I’d rather say, least best) Toy Story movie is nothing to scoff at.
And so, after Toy Story 2, Pixar proceeded to release nothing but solid gold cinema for ten straight years (aside from Cars, I suppose…), until they finally decided to return to good ol’ Toy Story, releasing the third film in 2010, and it ended up being the best movie they had ever made. Toy Story 3 ended up being a phenomenon. It was universally praised by critics and audiences, and it made more money than any other that year. It became the must-see movie event of the summer, not just for kids and adults, but for people my age, who ended up being able to relate to the movie better than anyone else. The subject matter of the movie involves Andy getting ready to head off to college, and deciding what to do with his old toys, which haven’t been played with in years. It’s filled with themes about growing up and moving on, entering a new period of life while saying good bye to the old ways. It was released just a couple days after my high school graduation, and so it ended up being a very fulfilling experience. Pixar made the absolute right choice to set the movie eleven years later after the events of Toy Story 2, and as a result, anyone who grew up with the previous two Toy Story movies could watch this one and connect very closely to it. The ending is pretty infamous for making many people cry, and while I’ve never actually shed tears watching it (no movie has ever done that to me, though this one brought me close) it was still a very emotional experience and is pretty rough to sit through to this day. Many people were skeptical about Pixar returning to the Toy Story well one last time, but it paid off wonderfully.
So now, with the toys’ journey with Andy over, I feel I can say the Toy Story trilogy functions almost perfectly as a classic film trilogy. The first movie starts things off well while still being a great movie on its own, the second movie builds upon the ideas of the first and introduces its own ideas that pay off in the third, while also being a great movie itself, and the third movie wraps up all the themes and ideas perfectly and gives the characters a fantastic send off, and manages to be the best of the three, if just by a tiny margin. There’s literally nothing about any of these movies I dislike. They’re each some of my favorite movies of all time, easily the best animated movies of all time, and as a collective, complete trilogy, they perfectly encapsulate the first eighteen years of my life.