I think I am the only one in the world who doesn't love Toy Story 3. According to IMDB's movie rankings, Toy Story 3 is actually rated HIGHER than Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 99%. And multiple people have told me that the conclusion left them sobbing.
The conclusion of Toy Story 3 seemed a shade too The Return of the King for me; the screen time it spent trying to wring emotion from me was more than it had earned. I didn't cry when Buzz, Woody & co. decide to go into the trash compactor together or when Andy bids farewell to his beloved toys and passes them on to Bonnie. I was just left with the hollow feeling that I had seen all this before.
And then I realized it was because I HAD seen it all before!
Toy Story 3 is pretty much a flashier remake of one of my all-time favorite animated movies, The Brave Little Toaster (1987).
The Brave Little Toaster is a wonderful fable about five appliances, a lamp, a radio (John Lovitz), a vacuum (Thurl Ravenscroft), an electric blanket, and a toaster, who are amazingly human.
The five friends (who feel more like siblings given their bickering, yet loving dynamic) start out in a boarded-up vacation home that hasn't been visited in years, but they still cherish hope that their "Master" will return and they will someday be useful again. They remember The Master fondly as a young boy who "played" with them and we see several flashbacks of him putting toast in the toaster, cuddling with the blanket, etc. The appliances work hard every day to keep the house clean for The Master's return, and go into spasms of ecstasy whenever they hear a car pass by, on the slim chance that it's his.
This is very similar to the beginning of Toy Story 3, where "Andy's Toys" have been boxed up for years, but are still keeping hope alive that someday they will once again be played with.
The wake-up call for the appliances comes when a "FOR SALE" sign is posted out front, forcing them to confront the fact that they've been abandoned. At this point, the appliances decide to take matters into their own hands and seek out their beloved Master.
Sound familiar? Basically the same thing happens to Andy's Toys, who are mistakenly put into a donation pile when Andy is packing up his things to go to college.
The Master is also college-bound, and we learn about two-thirds of the way through the movie that he intends to drive out to his family's old cottage and pick up the old appliances there to take to his dorm. Little does he know that the Brave Little Toaster and her friends are actually on their way to find him.
They are successful in tracking down the Master's address (which shares an address with CalArts, even down to the apartment number A113) and arrive at his apartment. Here they are greeted by an old friend, a TV who also used to furnish the vacation home. Unfortunately, he is the only one who is happy to see them. The new, modern appliances which grace the Master's city apartment are jealous because the Master is taking "some old junk to the dorm, instead of us", and they show off all of their fancy features in a song called "Cutting Edge." It culminates in them throwing the old appliances out the window, while their poor friend "Rabbit Ears" the TV looks on helplessly.
Andy's toys end up in a similarly hostile environment at the daycare. They are abused by hard-playing toddlers and restricted from the more-desired older kids by the long-time toys who have devised a kind of crony system to shut out the newcomers. Eventually, they too are put into the trash.
After being tossed out the window, the Toaster and her pals land in a garbage truck bound for Ernie's Disposal. Ernie's Disposal is a junkyard which features are large magnet whose job it is to place objects on a conveyor belt so they can be crushed and compacted into a small cube. The five appliances manage to avoid the sadistic magnet for some time; meanwhile, the old cars at the junkyard sing a very moving song called "Worthless" where they remember all of the ways they served in their lives; they reminisce about driving people to a wedding, racing in an Indy-500, cruising on the beach, commuting to work, and driving children to school on a reservation. Each verse is punctuated with the reflection that they are now "worthless." Unlike the ending of Toy Story 3, this song actually does bring tears to my eyes.
While the cars are singing their swan song at the dump, the Master has realized that his beloved appliances are no longer at the cottage, and decides to try and pick up something "cheap" to take to college. Here, the Toaster and co.'s friendship with the TV pays off, as the TV is able to give the Master the address for Ernie's disposal.
The Master comes to the junkyard and finds his appliances just as they are being lifted onto the conveyor belt by the giant magnet. He tries to get them free, but ends up getting trapped under something heavy and nearly crushed by the compactor. He is saved by the Toaster who throws herself into the gears of the machine to save his life.
The final scene shows the Master fixing the selfless toaster and tossing her and the other four appliances into the trunk of his car before he departs for college.
The penultimate scene of Toy Story 3 also features a magnet, a conveyor belt, and a trash compactor to a very similar effect. I noticed it when I first saw it in the theater, but until I noticed all the other similarities with The Brave Little Toaster, I chalked it up to Pixar's apparent obsession with giant magnets (see Wall-E).
However, once I noticed how closely the plot of Toy Story 3 mirrors The Brave Little Toaster, I realized why the movie seemed so "eh" to me; it was familiar because I'd basically already seen it. This is not totally surprising, as John Lasseter, who helped write Toy Story 3 was also involved in The Brave Little Toaster, as were many of Pixar's founding members. Wikipedia states that The Brave Little Toaster was Lasseter's first film pitch.
I don't feel like it's bad that Pixar pilfered Toy Story 3 from Brave Little Toaster, because it was essentially stealing from itself, and doing it with a bigger budget and more recognizable characters and an established franchise.
BUT- and I hate to say this, because I absolutely love both Toy Story 1 & 2- I really feel like The Brave Little Toaster is better.
It's got so much heart and soul and innocence, it's so funny, it has great characters and such great music.
If you haven't seen it, I recommend that you watch it, and see if you don't see something really special in The Brave Little Toaster. I realize that if you've seen Toy Story 3 first, you probably are going to see The Brave Little Toaster as sort of a rough draft, but give it a chance.