It wasn't that long ago that kid movies were for kids. Adults suffered through them, while they tried to remind themselves that the smile on their child's face was enough entertainment.
But these days, kids' movies are a family affair. And some recent releases from Pixar - notably Oscar winning Up! - seem to be made more for moms than for the mini set. Perhaps most surprising, teens don't see kids' movies as babyish or boring, but as a sound option for a Saturday night out.
For Toy Story 3, the appeal to teens rests not only in a great story, but in the sentimental pull of a saga that started right when they were entering childhood. The first installment hit theaters in 1995, when today's teens were still toddlers. And Pixar acknowledges the history behind the story in a heart-wrenching trailer where we watch Andy grow up alongside his audience. If you're a mom of a little boy - 2 or 22 - grab your Kleenex before watching the Toy Story 3 trailer.
While the toys are still the heroes of Toy Story 3, the catalyst is not a kid, but rather a soon-to-be college student. Just like many of the franchise's first fans, Andy is moving away from home, separating from the place and the things that feel comfortable and heading into the great unknown. While the themes of belonging, growing and exploring are evergreens in kid culture, we can't help but think these real points of teen tension will resonate with a much older audience than its animated look would lead us to believe.
Pixar hasn't taken this audience for granted. Beginning in April, Pixar screened a self-described "Special Cliffhanger Edition" of Toy Story 3 at 80 colleges in 22 states. The film whet the appetite of many a college consumer, and - if the blogosphere is any proof - Pixar succeeded in building the buzz. And perhaps more importantly, Pixar acknowledged that the generation that grew up alongside these mesmerizing toys wants to feel like they're part of the production - not just part of the consumption.
Adding to Toy Story 3's teen cred is its writer: Mike Arndt who won the Academy Award for the indie-gone-mainstream hit, Little Miss Sunshine. We can't speak for college students, but we kind of hope Buzz Lightyear picks up a copy of Proust, or Woody wiggles to Super Freak.
We're not sure how Toy Story 3 will fare in these first few days of summer cinema season, but we're betting on its success. As one teen we know wrote on his Facebook page, "Move over kids, I've been waiting for the next Toy Story for 11 years!!"