How do you follow up not one, but two brilliant films that both made over $200 million dollars?
That was the dilemma facing studio heads at Pixar as they planned to wrap up the super-successful Toy Story franchise. They had to overcome the mountain called the sequel, actually, an even greater obstacle, the sequel to a sequel.
The rules of sequels are as follows: Everything must be bigger and better, more dangerous, more suspenseful, more hilarious, more romantic. It's a difficult thing to accomplish, especially when you have as close to perfect a film as Toy Story. How did the studio pull it off?
Raising the Stakes - You have to make the stakes even bigger in any subsequent series installments. TS2 stepped things up by making Woody have to choose between going back to Andy and going to be in a museum. TS3 ups the ante, causing the toys to face questions about mortality and what the future holds for them. After being mistakenly donated to a daycare facility, the toys escape but end up facing the incinerator at a local dump. There's no way out and they must accept their fate. It's a dark, adult moment and works very well for all ages of the audience.
Add New and Interesting Characters - In a sequel, we want to see our old friends in new situations, but we also want to meet new ones. In TS3, the toys encounter a mob boss-like teddy bear who runs the day care like a prison warden. We also meet Ken - Barbie's soul mate - who offers much comic relief. Other bright and unique characters add to the flavor of the cast and create an exciting new environment for the toys.
Satisfy the Emotions - People want to be told stories so they can vicariously experience life. In a series, those emotions must continue to escalate until the characters are finally satisfied with the life they end up with (or realize they'll never live their dreams). The toys come to the understanding that what they really wanted all along was to be played with and decide to stay with a young girl from the daycare facility after Andy goes to college.
So we can learn from Toy Story 3 that big Hollywood movies are still based on such simple building blocks as characters and human emotion. If we establish those things first, we may have the opportunity to see one of our stories on the big screen, and maybe even a sequel or two (or three).