I'm just going to come out and say that Toy Story 3 is as perfect as Pixar gets. And if you've been reading my movie reviews for a while, you know that I'm not one to agree that Pixar's output improves with each subsequent movie: yes, I did enjoy WALL-E and Up, but I wasn't among those who found them flawless. Pixar set the bar extremely high in terms of storytelling and character, and I'm aware of that bar each time I see one of their features, so I am happy to report that Toy Story 3 reaches that bar.
Picking up in the present day, eleven years after Toy Story 2, Woody, Buzz, and the gang are seeing their boy Andy – now 17 and too old to play with toys – packing up and heading off to college. Are they destined for the attic? Or the curb? Neither, as it turns out, for the toys' future lies in a children's day care center, which seems idyllic but harbors some dark secrets. And "dark" is the operative word here, for after WALL-E's bleak dystopia and Up's poignant treatment of aging, disappointment, and death, Pixar can't go back to those innocent Bug's Life days. Yet Unkrich and company understand that, because audiences already know and love these characters, the filmmakers can ramp up the emotional investment by placing the characters in more intense – and even existentially profound – situations.
Of course the movie is still lots of fun, and in the Pixar tradition of employing out-of-work actors, Ned Beatty and Michael Keaton show up to voice new characters. What seems new here – or at least more prominent than in previous Pixar movies – is the subtlety of the animation. Don't get me wrong, there are some great wild moments, especially involving Buzz's "special mode", which is a triumph of character animation, but there are times when the characters just look at each other, almost motionless, and those are among the strongest moments in the film. Pixar is always pushing themselves further with each feature, and here instead of any new technical wizardry or settings, they are exploring new depths of emotion. In doing so, they have achieved that rare thing: they have created a movie trilogy in which each installment is better than its predecessor.