Unmarked Spoilers Below. Please read at your own risk. Spoilers for other features will be marked.
8.8: The only reason this movie didn't duplicate the 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes that its predecessors got? Two bad reviews—JUST TWO. If that hadn't happened, then Toy Story would have made history. The worst part of it? Neither of the reviews were legitimately criticizing the film, one was a troll seeking to prevent this exact achievement, and the other was a hand-wringing pearl-clutcher who didn't like how dark and intense it was for a G-rated film.
Americans Hate Tingle: Toy Story 3 was an utter flop in some countries in Eastern Europe, including Latvia, Romania and Russia. Many explanations have been offered, the less imaginative being that not many people there had seen the other two films because of economic troubles right after the fall of Communism in the 1990s, resulting in 3's Continuity Porn lacking appeal.
Angst Aversion: This movie is notorious for being very depressing to watch. It has everything from a brutal dictatorship to child abuse, to the inevitable prospect of a slow and sad death. The list goes on. As mentioned below, it gets so dark and grim at times that a number of fans were genuinely afraid Pixar wouldn't save their iconic toys from a violent demise by incineration. It's not for nothing that this movie is often called (even by ''professional film critics)one of the top ten "movies where grown men cry."
Complete Monster: Lotso is the ruler of Sunnyside Daycare, and oppresses the other toys through brute force and violence. Originally the favorite toy of a young girl named Daisy, Lotso was mistakenly lost and replaced, leading him to believe that all toys were worthless and unloved. Taking over Sunnyside, Lotso subjects the toys in the Caterpillar Room to horrid mistreatment from the younger children. When Andy's toys request that they be relocated to the Butterfly Room, Lotso resets Buzz Lightyear and has him beat down his friends, showing a cold satisfaction while doing so. When Woody frees the toys and they attempt to escape, Lotso has Chatter Telephone beaten in order to get him to explain Woody's escape plan before ordering the toys disposed of in the dumpster. When his minions turn on him and he is taken to the dump, along with Andy's toys, he abandons them to burn to death in the incinerator, ignoring that they had previously saved his life. While he has a tragic backstory, Woody himself calls him out on how weak it is, stating that Lotso had abandoned her, not the other way around. Sociopathic and misanthropic, Lotso may have appeared innocent, but was depraved at his core.
Continuity Lockout: True, this isn't The Matrix but viewers new to the series may wonder why the green aliens are constantly talking about "the Claw". An attempt to bridge this gap is made when they first arrive at the daycare. The aliens point at a construction vehicle toy with a claw and say "The Claw!" to establish that connection with new viewers.
Crosses the Line Twice: The scene where the daycare children rough up your toys is a little dark, but then Jessie's head gets dunked in paint. The line is crossed again when Rexloses his tail. Then again when Buzz is used as a mallet.
The incinerator? A metaphor for Hell. The whole journey through the Dump could be a condensed, metaphorical adaptation for Dante's Inferno. Complete with them all joining hands in what looks very much like a final prayer before being rescued from the fiery pit by a giant hand that descends from the heavens in a beam of light.
One working theory is that the 3rd movie is a metaphor for the afterlife. See this essay for more info.
Lotso never made it out of the dump.
Franchise Original Sin: For all the praise Toy Story 3 has gotten, some argue that the film retreads on the themes of previous installments. NitPix argues that this encouraged Pixar to generate "member movies", sequels which are released decades after the original mostly for nostalgia. He says Toy Story 3 was justified in doing this since the audience has grown up with Andy, but it inspired Pixar to produce a slew of disappointing films (most of them sequels).
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: "Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not by threat of force!" Three words: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya.
Genius Bonus: Potato Head using a Tortilla and a Cucumber while his body was trapped. Unless you're a vintage toy collector, you might not know that was how Mr. Potato Heads were actually sold: They were originally only a collection of parts meant to be used with real vegetables, and were later sold with plastic bodies to discourage food wastage.
When Woody lists the friends they lost while Andy grew up, he mentions Wheezy. In Toy Story 2, Woody saved Wheezy from being put in a yard sale. On top of that, both Wheezy's speaking and singing voice actors, Joe Ranft and Robert Goulet, have passed away.
Sarge's last words in the film are "It has been an honor serving with you. Good luck, folks." This ended up being R. Lee Ermey's last words in the franchise as he died about eight years after the films release in 2018.
One of Lotso's defining character traits is that he likes to hug other toys without asking. John Lasseter was forced out at Pixar for giving women forced hugs.
Thought the scene of Andy sacrificing Woody to Bonnie after giving away all his other toys was enough? Come Toy Story 4 and Bonnie has been outright neglecting Woody in favour of the other toys.
Heartwarming in Hindsight: Woody's line to Buzz "This isn't goodbye" can be seen as this to the entire franchise, as with the animated shorts and a fourth movie, this movie is not our goodbye to these characters. Especially if Sora pays the toys a visit in the future..
The monkey could easily be mistaken for one of the infamous animatronics, right down to the square metallic teeth. It even pulls a Jump Scare!
The Chatter Telephone is the equivalent of the Phone Guy since he tells Woody everything that happpens at Sunnyside expecially during the night.
The Walking Dead would premiere later in the year Toy Story 3 was released, and its' third season coincidentally features a few beats similar to this film: the Big Bad is a ruthless tyrant with a southern accent ruling a potential safe haven under the guise of a benevolent, fatherly Team Dad persona. A blonde finds out she's been romantically involved with the enemy. And the main cast moves into a prison where they're besieged by the Big Bad. The Dragon pulls a HeelFace Turn out of love for one of the main cast (though out of familial love than romantic love), and ultimately the Big Bad's community turns on him when they see how evil and insane he really is. David Morrissey even sounds a lot like Ned Beatty with the heavy southern drawl he uses as The Governor! Also, taking into account The Walking Dead's fourth season, both villains are given chances for redemption, only to then prove just how far gone they really are by trying to kill the heroes again, and ultimately falling victim to a well-deserved karmic fate (though Lotso surives, unlike The Governor).
It was rumored that Boo could be seen in the Butterfly room during the movie, but this was Jossed. Funnily enough, Toy Story 4 actually does feature a legitimate cameo from Boo, where she's a student in Bonnie's kindergarten class, possibly in reference to these very rumors.
Like You Would Really Do It: No, they ultimately don't pull the trigger against some of the most iconic (and profitable) characters of the modern era, no matter how intense the incinerator scene was. A lot of fans watching for the first time were genuinely afraid Pixar was actually going to have the nerve to destroy their beloved characters, though. Even some viewers who noticed that the Little Green Men had been conveniently removed for the moment admitted that they wound up forgetting this when the scene actually came up.
Memetic Molester: Surprisingly, Woody, thanks to the alternate face that comes with his Revoltech Sci-Fi action figure, which is the image for that page.
Misaimed Fandom: Despite the writer's efforts on making Lotso as horrible and unsympathetic as possible, there are some people who feel sympathy for Lotso because of his backstory.
Nausea Fuel: During the daycare scene, the extreme closeup of a toddler shoving Buzz's helmet into her mouth.
Older Than They Think: While usually Nice Guy-cast Ned Beatty playing a dead-serious and despicable villain can come off as a surprise to most viewers, this is not a first time Beatty had played a loathsome antagonist, as he had played one before in his second acting role in his career in the Burt Reynolds flick White Lightning, a role that has been largely forgotten by the public except by some like Quentin Tarantino. Beatty in this role is here to remind viewers he still have the ability to reach this range to play this type of villain character, however, his performance manages to out-vile his White Lightning role.
Chuckles, who also only one major scene but leaves a huge impact on the story with his memorable backstory and excellent VA work.
Lotso's Sunnyside lieutenants. They're in many scenes, but the vending machine scene is the only time they actually talk, an entertaining moment for its humor and menace. It helps that they're voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and three obscure but very prolific voice actors.
Chatter Telephone only appears briefly, but his personality and efforts to help Woody escape definitely leave quite an impression.
Sid's cameo as an adult, now an enthusiastically headbanging, heavy metal-loving garbageman and still wearing that black skull t-shirt.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Stinky Pete is implied to have actually grown to eventually like being played with by Amy (the girl he was "Given" to at the end of the second movie). Some feel it would have been amazing to have him reappear and be on their side.
This is why most fans feel there should be no more sequels after Toy Story 3 - the film itself doesn't suffer from the trope, the film is the Tough Act. Hell, the concept indirectly affected the reception of Cars 2 and Brave. Even Pixar is aware of this; John Lasseter said they had no plans for a fourth movie because the third felt like a perfect note to end on, but they felt an idea they were kicking around was too good to pass up, and thus, Toy Story 4 was green-lit. It wasn't until Inside Out, released half a decade later, that Pixar made a movie considered good enough to escape Toy Story 3's shadow.
Oddly enough, Toy Story 2 and 3 each had a similar reception when they were first announced, with fans feeling like the previous installment had a perfect ending, leaving no need for a sequel.
Andy is leaving for college, and his mother tells him he has to clear out his room. She gives him instructions that garbage bags hold trash, like his apple core, and cardboard boxes hold sentimental items for storage in the attic. You'd Expect: Andy to follow his mother's instructions. Despite having outgrown all of his toys, he's deeply attached to the ones that survived his childhood. Instead: He puts his toys in a garbage bag and leaves them below the attic door. Mrs. Davis on seeing the bag puts it in the trash. Later, Andy can't find his toys, and when he explains to his mother, she goes Oh, Crap!. Fortunately, the toys make it back before Andy leaves for college, and he thinks he just misplaced them, but still!
Woody runs with a pair of scissors to save his friends, who manage to escape the garbage truck. By the time he catches up, however, they believe that Andy has abandoned them. Jessie is particularly hurt since it triggered her abandonment issues and claustrophobia. Woody tells them that Andy was putting them in the attic. You'd Expect: That they would believe Woody, and return to the attic on their own, before Andy notices they're gone. Instead: The toys don't believe Woody, especially since Andy's taking him to college. Jessie decides to go with Molly's abandoned Barbie to the local daycare. They soon find that the daycare is a False Utopia for new toys, and its leader Lotso won't let them return when Mrs. Potato Head sees through her missing eye that Andy is looking for them. Jessie apologizes to Woody when he comes back for them, lampshading that the toys were wrong.
Lotso explains to Buzz how the "system" at Sunnyside works and offers to let Buzz join his team and live in luxury in the Butterfly Room. Buzz doesn't question the system, accepting that it "makes sense," but declines the offer because he refuses to leave his friends. You'd Expect: Lotso would say, "Okay," and let Buzz go willingly back to the Caterpillar Room (where Lotso originally planned for him to go in the beginning) with his friends. There's no threat of rebellion at this point (just the opposite, in fact!), no danger to his system continuing to run as it always has. Buzz and the rest of Andy's toys still see him as a benevolent leader doing what's best for everyone. Instead: Buzz unknowingly triggers Lotso's Berserk Button when he uses the family justification, and Lotso brainwashes Buzz into serving him purely out of spite. He then goes and informs the rest of Andy's toys that they're not allowed to leave, revealing that them ending up in the Caterpillar Room wasn't a mistake and that Sunnyside "isn't a family, it's a prison," which, of course, leads to the rebellion that he tries to have Buzz stop, even though it was triggered by Lotso brainwashing Buzz and having him attack the others.
Much of the humor will sail over younger heads, and a lot of kids get frightened and often even leaving during the Monkey Scene (a few have theorized the 11-year Sequel Gap helped Pixar aim for a Darker and Edgier route). Even worse is that it once played on the Disney Junior block and had a tie-in with Pull-Ups training pants.
The notorious incinerator scene. The suspense and fear is enough to unnerve even grown-up viewers, and it can genuinely be too intense for small children.
Big Baby. Like Lotso and Chuckles, he was accidentally left behind by their original owner, Daisy. Lotso didn't let Big Baby see Daisy for the last time and lied, saying they were all replaced instead of just Lotso. They wound up in Sunnyside where Lotso manipulated and abused the toddler minded toy into doing his dirty work. Near the end when Woody tells the truth that Lotso had lied all the time and he (Woody) gives Big Baby's old locket with Daisy's name on it, Lotso grabs the locket from the tearful Baby, smashes it and starts beating Big Baby. Lotso's treatment of Big Baby was, all in all, child abuse. Poor kid.
Most of the main cast fall under this; they've lost many of their friends, they're not played with any more and they're doomed to life in the attic, which isn't so bad but can never compare to Andy's childhood. Then they get thrown out by accident.