Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Toy Story 3 (2010) Review

Toy Story 3
Like Revisiting Old Friends

If you’ve taken a look at my write-up on trilogies, then you know how hard it is to maintain consistency of quality from start to finish. I mean, look at the Alien and Godfather triplets; both contain two near perfect films that then experienced a drop-off during the third go-around. Even the best trilogies typically contain a fluctuation over the course of time, such as with Indiana Jones and even Back to the Future (although only moderately in that case). Arguably the only previous trilogy to ever experience a perfect equilibrium of continuity and quality has been The Lord of the Rings, which you can argue is more one very long story than three separate ones. Now in the past, Pixar has been mostly adverse to sequels, with the exception of Toy Story 2, which was predictably excellent anyway. With Toy Story 3, I started to get the feeling that they were slowing turning more formulaic, especially since the previews made the film appear to be catering more towards a kid audience. Well, color me shocked, because not only has Pixar continued its flawless streak of great films, but they have also managed to craft a sequel that is deserving of the Toy Story name in every facet.
Plot Synopsis: Andy is about to go off to college in a few days, leaving his toys Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Hamm, and the rest of the gang to wonder who Andy will take to college and who will be shoved in the attic. Woody tries to keep everyone calm, saying that by staying in the attic they will be doing their duty to Andy, but even he is unsure of the future. After Woody is chosen as Andy’s college toy, Andy’s mom accidently thinks the others are trash and leaves them out by the curb. Through a series of chases and close calls, Woody makes it to the others in time, but not before ending up in mom’s car on the way to being donated to the Sunnyside Daycare Center. On arrival, the other daycare toys and their leader Lotso, who gives them a tour of the place, warmly welcome them. Soon, Lotso tricks them and sends the toys into the little kids room, at which point Woody decides to leave and try to get back to Andy while his friends wish to remain, feeling they’ve been abandoned by their old owner.


It’s hard to believe that it’s really been ten years since Toy Story 2 arrived, because the people over at Pixar have fashioned a story that expertly references, compliments, and expands on the plot threads set up in the previous two movies. While the original dealt with sharing a friend and the second delved into collectorship and history, this concluding entry explores the feelings that come with letting go and new beginnings. These are complex and at the same time very human emotions that the characters display here; and while children will certainly enjoy the film a lot, I have a feeling that adults will appreciate it even more because of the level of maturity evoked in the writing. These indelible characters are more complicated and deep than most shown in live-action movies! But as we know, Pixar understands how to write affecting dramatic stories while injecting healthy doses of humor to keep things light and the entertainment level high. Many of the gags are some of the funniest in the series, with the much-advertised “Spanish Buzz” taking the top-prize, as I couldn’t stop laughing whenever he opened his mouth.

Even though it has been a while since the actors have inhibited the personalities of these toys, they voice them as if they were just playing them yesterday. The old principals, including Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz), Joan Cusack (Jessie), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head) and others are expectedly excellent and get moments to shine as the classic toys, however I found the new recruits stole the show in many scenes. Ned Beatty in particular puts in great work as Lotso, who isn’t so much a bad guy as a toy who has been disillusioned by life experiences, and believes he is keeping peace and order at Sunnyside. Other newcomers like the theatrically inclined Mr. Pricklepants (ex-007 Timothy Dalton), Big Baby, and the Bookworm get some great moments, but the one that leaves the biggest impression is Ken, played by a charismatically vain Michael Keaton. Some of the funniest moments are when the fact the Ken is essentially a girls’ doll comes up, or when he tries to woo Barbie. Some of the old characters such as Bo Peep have been eliminated from the roster, but their exclusions are respectfully explained away and allow for more screen time for the characters that truly matter.


From a technical standpoint, the visual look stays true to the overall design established in the last two while bumping up the detail considerably in many areas. Some outside shots are so meticulously done that they look almost photo-real. When it comes to the 3D, I honestly forgot it was there most of the time. I mean I’m all for immersing someone in the movie without pounding them with in-your-face 3D, but it feels underutilized and even unnecessary. This is only slightly unfortunate though as the action scenes that drive the plot forward are quite good, especially for a movie about toys. From the introduction of Sunnyside to the escape from it, there are many references to classic prison break movies of the past, with The Great Escape being the most prominent. What’s amazing about these action parts is that we still care what happens to these characters and feel that they are in mortal danger, especially in the quite epic climax. But even when the last third becomes essentially one long chase scene, the movie still doesn’t sacrifice great character moments, whether sad or humorous.

This all then leads up to the final scene, which very nearly had me in tears as we say goodbye to these people one last time. And really, I’m happy that Pixar decided to make this final chapter. Because despite my initial thoughts that Toy Story 3 would come off as an unnecessary extension on an already well-treaded storyline, the writers have come up with not only a substantial story, but one that reinforces and brings all the threads that began 15 years ago to a logical and satisfying conclusion.


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