Toy Story 3
Credit: Disney/Pixar

Image Credit: Disney/PixarKnowing full well that Toy Story 3 was on its way to a record $109 million weekend, I walked into a 7:30 p.m. showing on Saturday, expecting to find a theater consisting of mostly parents and their kids. This was, after all, an animated film or “cartoon” — a label that’s still used derogatorily by some adults. But to my pleasant surprise, my sold-out auditorium was packed with grown-ups, and nearly all of them had arrived sans kids. This made for a particularly satisfying movie-going experience. There were no crying babies or incessantly chatty tots, and while Toy Story 3 is a movie that children will undoubtedly devour, its poignant coda will be appreciated most by those with multiple decades beneath their belts. And so when that moment came — a brief facial expression from a college-bound Andy — my theater was reduced to sniffles.

There are a couple of possible explanations for why my Toy Story 3 theater contained an adult-to-child ratio of approximately 9-1. On one hand, I went to a 2-D showing. (I’m against wearing those 3-D sunglasses unless a movie, such as Avatar, absolutely demands it.) So maybe parents whisked their kids to the pricier 3-D shows, while we childless adults opted for two dimensions. But I think something else was also at play here.

It may have taken 15 years and 11 Pixar features, but we’ve finally reached the point where adult moviegoers appreciate animated features — particularly those from Pixar — just as much as their live-action counterparts. Gone are the days when one would have been ridiculed for attending an animated movie without a child in tow. Instead, adult moviegoers are flocking to Toy Story 3 because they know (with a high degree of certainty) that buying tickets to a Pixar production will be money well spent, and that’s something most other summer movies cannot guarantee.

Of course, it’s not as if this transition happened overnight with Toy Story 3. Since the original Toy Story was released in 1995, an avalanche of films has gradually forced many adults to reexamine their expectations for animated features. Pixar has clearly been at the center of this epiphanic awakening, but credit should also be given to such enthralling pictures as Waltz With Bashir, The Triplets of Belleville, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Waking Life, Perfect Blue, The Secret of Kells, Persepolis, and the bewitching works of director Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, Totoro from Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro had an extended cameo in Toy Story 3, and I was thrilled to hear fellow moviegoers whispering “It’s Totoro!” to one another.

However, as much as I adored Toy Story 3, I’m also somewhat dismayed about the fact that two of Pixar’s next three films will be sequels (Cars 2 and Monsters Inc. 2). Thanks to the leadership of John Lasseter’s studio, animation has reached an unprecedented level of embrace, and I’d hate to think that Pixar might one day devolve into a sequel factory like the rest of Hollywood. Sure, it’s likely that Cars 2 and Monsters Inc. 2 will be delightful; these days, one should never bet against Pixar. But this is also a golden opportunity for Pixar to push the boundaries of animation even further. The studio had already begun to step out of its comfort zone with the post-apocalyptic Wall•E and the Miyazaki-flavored Up, and let’s hope it continues to do so. By now, Pixar should know that we adults will gladly follow them anywhere, to infinity and beyond.

PopWatchers, how many of you went to see Toy Story 3 without dragging a child along? What was the demographic makeup of your theater like? And who seemed to be enjoying the movie more: the adults or kids?