Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

Directed by Lee Unkrich. Released 2010. Rated G.

How does a movie like this end up being a wonderful children’s movie? How does someone write a children’s movie about death, abandonment, elderly-care, and religious questioning with never actually using the terms associated to them?
Actually, a few people in the after-movie discussion were a little irritated that I would take the movie that far from its target (five-year-old) audience. Let’s see if I can break it down.

Andy is the owner of a small band of desperately loyal toys, all of whom wear his name on their bodies. It would be perfect for these toys, who value nothing more than being played with by their kid, except their kid is not a kid any more. He’s seventeen and pretty much done with toys. The beginning of the movie is a slow paced kick in your mortality. You will get old, people will leave you, and when that time comes it’s either wait to die or take the quick road. In fact, many of the familiar faces from the first two movies have already found their way out of Andy’s life.

(Bo Peep is definitely not in this movie)

At this point, you only have a few thoughts to keep you afloat: an unknown future (which could be bright. Possibly. Maybe.), or the “at least we still have each other” mentality. Neither thought seems very buoyant; after all, Andy didn’t care about tossing their friends, and what’s keeping them together if not faith in Andy?

See how that word faith found its way in here? Keep it in mind.

That’s as far as I’ll take the synopsis. You should already know most of that just from the first trailers. It was hard to watch with those themes in mind, but the movie doesn’t keep you in agony for long. Soon we’re back to enjoying toys in action, with all of their caper-like stylized action. So what’s new? Naturally, a few new characters, a new world to explore, that sort of thing. While the toys have had to deal with misfortune and human wickedness before, this time they have to deal with it from other toys. This new dynamic lets light in on the toy moral ethic and many of the driving forces in their lives. It helps the audience question their own methods. Or not. Sometimes it’s just fun to chuckle at the simple life of a toy.

Can anyone actually tell me if the visuals are actually getting better? I swear, in 1995 the characters looked perfectly in their element. They still do and I can’t tell if they were just perfect the first time or if Pixar just effortlessly keeps up with the pace so easily that they won the gold while jogging.

It’s interesting to relate toys to the abandoned parents of children, but that seems to be how Toy Story has always taken itself. They stay with a child, a child they love more than anything, and they stay until the child is grown up and can make do without them. Then the kid has to do SOMETHING with his poor care givers. Donate, attic, or trash. In this movie you can substitute those words with old folks home, your basement, or...trash. But a kid's gotta do something.

However, Toy Story 3 deepens that relationship into near worship. The dramatic question throughout the movie is “how can we return to Andy,” but just behind that question is the question that was asked before they were separated, “does Andy care?”

While some toys are set on making their own fortune and cutting their losses, others, like Woody, are constantly urging the toys to just stay together and stay as close to Andy as they can; someday he may need them, and, if not Andy, maybe his children. It is the faithful waiting game; there is no guarantee, barely a promise and no future vision. Why bother? Just have faith.

In a climactic moment, disaster seems eminent, one faithless character asks the ironically religious question, “Where’s your boy, now?” Personally, I use the root phrase of that as often as possible.

In conjunction with this movie, it’s impossible to not see its religious connotations. I shouldn’t really go into detail about what happens next, but I think it is a very honest way to look at faith in reality.

When all is said and done, the movie is a blast, even if you don’t care for its theological themes. All of the characters the movie retains are more fleshed out than ever. After the previous films it’s obvious that these toys are old hands at working together and getting out of situations, so their caper-style antics are at their best. The Potato Heads have some of the absolute funniest scenes and gimmicks as it turns out that their mix-and-matchable parts can connect to other things than their bodies.

(This is not one of those moments)

Definitely a high rating. 3-D was good because it wasn’t intrusive, but I’m not sure it was necessary. I’ll tell you what, though. You better watch it 3-D just so no one can see you cry behind the dark shades at all the sad parts.

(You'd never guess he just shot his woman...and then watched Toy Story 3)


  1. As always, a solid review. And I have to agree with everything you said. Sadly, I really can't take issue with any part of your review, so how am I supposed to contribute a meaningful comment? Even if I can't, I have to say that I was surprised by the emotion that Pixar was able to pull out of the audience throughout the movie. As a general rule, if I find myself caught up in some of the emotion, it must be legit, because I tend to think I'm pretty good at catching the cliche, formulaic methods that too many films use to stir the audience's emotional pot. Toy Story 3 surprised me with how well it pulled it off. Even if parts were a bit cliche, it was so smooth I probably would have accepted had Pixar invited me back to her apartment...ok, let's face it, Pixar is sexy enough I'd accept anyway, but I think you get the idea. This movie stands out with the other Toy Story films, or with Wall-E, or The Incredibles as an almost black-and-white contrast with some of Pixar's flops (in my opinion of movie quality, not box office success) such as Cars, or A Bug's Life. I was asking myself at the end of the movie what the difference was, and I can only say that it is entirely character-driven. Now, Toy Story 3 has a bit of a shortcut because Pixar had already so masterfully endeared us to its characters in the previous films, but that's what makes sequels so difficult--you have to take the audience to a different, often deeper level with them in order for it to work. Pixar did it again. As I mentioned, Cars was a prime example of a movie that just couldn't do it for me. I like cars, but you couldn't get me to care about that damn red car because the plot was all too predictable (as was most of the humor). As I said, Pixar didn't rely on the formulaic, predictable story twists in Toy Story 3. We had a hint of something with Buzz and Jessie, but it was never central to the storyline--it was merely a pinch of something extra to think about, which allowed for some decent humor. Likewise, we were never dealing with a romantic interest with Woody, because we all know how that storyline would unfold. So Pixar said "forget it, let's do something more creative." Thank you, Pixar. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that Pixar succeeded in staying away from what I would view as Disney's typical milking of successful characters to create a mediocre sequel, and they found a way to stay true to the roots of Toy Story and its characters (which is why we all wanted to see this movie in the first place) and still broadened the scope of their development and the story. That's not an easy thing to do, especially working under Disney, who has a nasty reputation for producing sequels to every good movie they create and making them suck as much as Beverly Hills Chihuahua (also due for a sequel, I hear). Kudos to Pixar for not screwing up some of the most lovable animated characters we've come to know.

  2. Can't wait to see it now (even though I HATE movies that make me cry)! BTW - that spider pic is really creepy!