After seeing “Toy Story 3”, I felt completely satisfied as far as the series is concerned. The 11 year gap, mostly thanks to the Eisner-Jobs War, is probably the greatest blessing afforded to the franchise, because the kids like me who grew up with it can relate to the theme of moving on just as much as the new generation will be excited by its prison-break plot. An ingenious move, even if by accident. Nonetheless, the third installment as a stand-alone film leaves me feeling more could be done, if that’s even possible.

How are these toys 15 years old now?!?

Don’t get me wrong this film is excellent. “Toy Story” is very much Generation Y’s version of “Star Wars” in the sense that we all grew up with it and is quite simply required viewing for membership in the human race, so it was very important Pixar absolutely nailed it. New characters come in with strong back stories, and the plot’s catalyst of Andy shipping off to college builds to a satisfactory denouement.  Closure is achieved, and as a viewer you probably couldn’t want it to end any other way.

Being a sequel and being a film, however, are on two different planes. And considering Pixar’s trajectory to this point, it feels like a step sideways.

They will never do wrong. Ever

If you haven’t noticed, every Pixar release is like whenever Bob Dylan puts out a new album: they can do no wrong and mounds of critical praise are a contractual obligation. And rightfully so. Everything from the first “Toy Story” way back in 1995 up to 2004’s “The Incredibles” were fantastic family films, the ones Disney themselves used to make with strong stories and likeable characters, and they made boatloads of money.

But like any other good artist, Pixar needed to transcend its boundaries. 2006’s “Cars” was a step back, but it was necessary. Its vague preachy call for building preservation and gentrifying old towns, ironically enough made by automobiles, was feeble enough. But next year’s “Ratatouille”, which clicked on all cylinders for a human-rat interaction story and brought more mature themes to the fore than ever, served as the redeemer.

Then there was “Wall-E”. The anti-consumerism and the emotion through lack of emotion was a ballsy move for what’d be marketed as a kids movie and everyone still saw it. So when “Up”’s release successfully commercialized the adult themes of loss and growing old, it marked the third film in a row where Pixar completely outdid itself. It was damn near perfect, it made a bunch of people across all age groups cry and was Pixar’s second-highest grossing release. Whatever comes next should assassinate the consensus pick for greatest movie ever!

And yet “Toy Story 3” didn’t have the perfect aim. It’ll resonate with a lot of people yes, but for a franchise as beloved as this it just doesn’t outdo “Up” the way it should have. A certain romance between Buzz and Jessie feels far-fetched and unnecessary after the obvious Barbie/Ken pairing. The final plot conflict before the resolution feels overly dark, over-wrought and out of place with the rest of the story. Yeah it’s nitpicking, but a product from a studio as perfectionist as Pixar demands that.

So does this mean Pixar has reached a  film-making plateau? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Toy Story 3 may be a step sideways, but it’ll still be one of the best films released this year. And with the studio’s next release a sequel to “Cars”, that film will be judged on two different levels as well to further complicate expectations. I have no doubt they’ll remain the most consistent producer of entertainment and animation in the industry, butt their continued evolution as story-tellers remains to be seen.

Marc