There are several spoilers in this review, so please don’t read beyond this point if you haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises and you don’t want to know plot details. You’ve been warned.
When I first thought of this article, I planned on talking about how The Dark Knight Rises and Toy Story 3 exemplify how to make a good third film in a series. So few movie series end on a strong note, and these two films are finally starting a positive trend in third films. But as my ideas formulated I realized that these two films actually have a lot in common in terms of their plot and structure. So this article will be kind of a hybrid between a Movie Matchup and a discussion of how to make a superb series finale. So let’s find out where Batman gets those wonderful toys as we compare The Dark Knight Rises and Toy Story 3.
- Both films share many similarities with the first film in their respective series.
- The events of the third film take place many years after the second film ends.
- The hero is mostly forgotten and/or in hiding.
- The hero is separated from his friends.
- The other characters wonder if the hero is dead.
- The villain puts the oppressed in charge, and chaos ensues.
- The hero returns with a plan to rescue his friends.
- The main characters are betrayed in their most desperate hour.
- At the last minute, the hero is saved from a fiery death.
- The hero bids a final goodbye to his longtime friend, and a new adventure begins.
Revisiting the First Film
It seems to me that the secret to making a satisfying third film in a trilogy is to incorporate and expand upon aspects of the first film. It worked for Return of the Jedi when they brought the Death Star back, for example, and it definitely works in these two films.
Toy Story 3 cleverly turns a lot of the best elements of the first Toy Story on their head. For example:
- A misunderstanding puts Woody at odds with all the other toys. They think they’re being thrown away in the third film and that Woody tried to kill Buzz in the first.
- Woody is accidentally discovered and taken home by a benevolent girl rather than a vicious boy.
- The toys’ goal is to get back to Andy before he goes to college while their goal in the first film is to get back before Andy’s family moves to a new home.
- Buzz Lightyear turns into an evil version who doesn’t recognize his friends – the complete opposite of his gleefully ignorant self in the first film.
The Dark Knight Rises has a lot in common with Batman Begins:
- Bruce Wayne is forced to discover inner strength to rise out of a prison in the third film, and he goes on a personal journey to discover how to overcome his fear in the first.
- Wayne visits Gordon while wearing a ski mask to hide his identity.
- The villain is part of the League of Shadows, and he plans on destroying Gotham City.
- Wayne Enterprise’s own invention is used as the instrument of Gotham’s destruction.
- Batman defeats the villain’s plan not by stopping the device but by getting or keeping it out of range.
- Catwoman shoots Bane in cold blood with the Bat Pod’s gun while Rachel Dawes shoots Scarecrow in the face with a Taser.
- The city is cut off and the police who are sent in to solve the problem are neutralized.
- Before Batman leaves on a dangerous mission at the end, he gives Commissioner Gordon a hint about his true identity, just like he did with Rachel.
There are other similarities in these films, but I’ll keep it to these for the sake of brevity.
Many Years Later
The first two films in both series happen in a close timeframe. But the third film is separated from the second one by many years. This isn’t necessarily a recipe for success, as the makers of The Godfather Part III or Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles will attest, but it works in favor of The Dark Knight Rises and Toy Story 3. The fact that Batman hasn’t been seen in eight years makes the events of The Dark Knight even more significant in viewers’ minds, and it shows what a profound impact the deaths of Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent had on Bruce Wayne. The Joker may have been defeated, but he wounded Batman in a deeply personal way, like Khan did to Kirk in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Except there’s no way to bring people back to life in Batman’s world.
Toy Story 2 did a great job of introducing the characters to the fact that Andy is growing up, and soon he won’t be interested in playing with them anymore. However, Woody and the gang refuse to let that deter them from always being there for their beloved owner. Toy Story 3 brings that concept to fruition, taking us many years into the future to find Andy about to leave for college. He remembers his toys with fondness, but most of them simply aren’t important enough to him to contemplate bringing with him. The toys have to find a new place in the world.
Hero in Hiding
As mentioned above, the main characters haven’t been seen or heard from by anyone in years. Bruce Wayne and his alter ego have been out of the spotlight for almost a decade. Wayne is apparently dealing with a debilitating knee injury, and Batman is wanted for Harvey Dent’s murder. Woody and his friends are stuffed in an old toy chest, and their owner hasn’t paid them much thought in years.
Separated from Friends
The hero is cut off from his friends. Wayne takes up the Batman mantle once more when Gotham City is threatened by Bane, but Bane proves to be too much for Batman. He badly damages Batman’s spine and banishes him to a pit that is almost escape-proof. Woody and his friends go to Sunnyside Daycare, but Woody feels compelled to escape and get back to Andy. He makes it outside the daycare, but he is taken home by a little girl. The girl’s home is a paradise in contrast to the brutal prison that Sunnyside turns out to be for the other toys.
Is He Dead?
Once the hero disappears, his friends have to deal with the fact that he might be dead. In The Dark Knight Rises, Selina Kyle is arrested while trying to flee Gotham City, and when she’s questioned by police she admits she doesn’t know whether or not Bane killed Batman. In Toy Story 3, Woody’s friends are caught trying to escape, and Lotso pretends that he killed Woody to make an example to keep the other toys under his control. In both cases, the villain holds up the hero’s mask/hat as a token of having destroyed him.
There’s an interesting commentary on the vices of mob rule. Bane seals almost every police officer underground and then sets every criminal free. He tells all of the ordinary citizens to make the rich pay for the crime of being rich, which they happily do, unrestrained by law and order. However, this simply produces misery for everyone as supplies run low, electricity becomes scarce, and good leaders are forced into hiding.
Lotso has a sad backstory. He was lost by his owner and replaced by her parents, so he took his anger to Sunnyside where he put all of the mean-spirited toys in charge and made all of the kind toys miserable. The system he set up made it so that weaker toys are destroyed by younger children while stronger toys are treated gently by older children. It’s not an equitable way of doing things.
The hero makes his way back to his friends and formulates a plan to defeat the villain. Wayne overcomes his fear and summons inner strength he didn’t know he had in order to climb out of the prison. He then works with Selina Kyle, Lucius Fox, and Commissioner Gordon to free the trapped cops underground and launch an all-out assault on Bane and his forces. Woody sneaks back into Sunnyside and simply forms an escape plan. He doesn’t want to confront Lotso at all, but that’s what winds up happening.
At a key moment, the heroes are betrayed by someone they hoped they could count on. In his second encounter with Bane, Batman finds a way to defeat him. However, right when he’s about to deliver the finishing blow, he is literally stabbed in the back by the woman he had trusted with his company and many of his secrets earlier in the film. She also does everything she can to dash Batman’s hopes of saving the city from a neutron bomb. Woody is figuratively stabbed in the back by Lotso after he saves the bear from a conveyor belt leading to an incinerator. Lotso has a chance to turn the conveyor belt off as thanks for being saved, but he instead leaves Woody and his friends to their fate.
Saved at the Last Minute
When all hope is lost, the hero manages a last-second escape from death. In a scene reminiscent of one in the 1989 Batman film, Batman uses his Bat-plane to pull a neutron bomb far away from Gotham City to prevent the deaths of millions of citizens. We’ve been told that the Bat-plane doesn’t have an autopilot in place, so Batman will have to pilot it himself, which will result in his death. Happily, though, we later learn that Wayne had repaired the autopilot months earlier, and he faked his death so he could live a quiet life out of the spotlight.
As Woody, Buzz, Jessie and all the other main characters that we’ve grown to love over the past decade and a half accept their fate and prepare to die in the incinerator, we the audience are horrified and distressed for them. But before they meet their fate, a giant claw comes down around them and lifts them all to safety. It turns out that Mr. Potato Head’s three adopted alien children found the controls and saved them just in time. This is a brilliant culmination of things that were set up much earlier: the aliens’ obsession with The Claw in the first film and Mr. Potato Head’s brave effort to save the three aliens’ lives in the second film.
One Last Goodbye and a New Beginning
The hero gets to say a final farewell to his trusted friend as a new adventure awaits them. Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred goes to a restaurant where he used to go to see if he could catch a glimpse of his master during his time abroad at the start of Batman Begins. This time he does see Wayne, and they share an affectionate look that communicates everything they need to say. Just knowing that they’re both alive and well is enough. Also, it looks like someone else is going to continue the Batman legacy back in Gotham City.
Woody and the other toys make their way back to Andy just before he leaves for college. Andy decides to give them to the little girl that found Woody earlier, and he plays with all of them one more time before handing them off. He’s sad to see them go, and he’s particularly reluctant to part ways with Woody. But he realizes that toys are meant to be with young children, not with grown adults, so he finds the strength to leave Woody behind, as well. Andy then goes off to a happy future, and his toys begin a fresh cycle with their new owner.
Making a good final film in a popular film series is extremely difficult. For every Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country there are scores of Star Trek: Nemesis-es. Sometimes studios don’t know when to stop, and sometimes filmmakers don’t know how to stop. Pixar and Christopher Nolan are dedicated to producing quality films, which is why moviegoers can almost always trust them to make truly worthwhile entertainment. They certainly didn’t disappoint with Toy Story 3 and The Dark Knight Rises, respectively. And hopefully other filmmakers and studios can pick up on what works so well in these concluding chapters and elevate their own films to new heights.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
The images are the copyright of their respective owners.
This is an awesome article. My son Ethan loves toy story 3 so I have seen it about 100 times and I just saw TDKR on opening day. I agree with and was amazed by the similarities you saw between these two great films.
Not all 3rd films have to be terrible, it’s amazing!
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