Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Toy Story 3 Best of the Series? Not Really. But It's Still Pretty Good.

To be quite honest, it's not even my favorite animated move of 2010. That title still goes to How To Train Your Dragon, with Despicable Me (fuck you, you probably haven't seen it) coming in second and Toy Story 3 coming in right behind that. But neither of those are sequels and I didn't buy either one just last night, so right now we're talking about Toy Story 3.

Talking about Toy Story 3 isn't necessarily novel. Everyone's been doing it since the film's summer release and I'm sure there will be a lot of buzz in the coming months, due to Oscar season, etc. But it is the third film in probably one of the biggest animated series in the history of movies, and therefore surefire fodder for I Heart Sequels. (Sorry to say it isn't the top series because the Shrek movies still take that title.) Also, and maybe this is a bias that may skew this review for some, Toy Story 2 is one of my favorite sequels of all time.

That said, it's a really good movie (natch, considering the article title), but it's one that feels a little, been-there-done-that, especially upon the second viewing. True nothing as VISUALLY dramatic as the fiery pit was to be found in the two previous films, but the threat of destruction and loss always loomed large in this series. Woody, again, is a disciple of Andy, coming off as a complete zealot. If it wasn't for the dramatic irony that we know Andy didn't mean to have the others thrown out, we probably would have all been in the others' corner. Seriously, if Woody was a real person we would have all looked at him like he was a battered housewife going back for thirdsies.

Jesse's reaction to Andy's seeming betrayal is probably even more frustrating. Almost eleven years after she has lived with Andy and at the slightest hint of scorn, she turns into a real shrew. Everybody else, well, they've always been negative Nellies, and they react as you'd expect. But there is zero warmth or charm in the character of Jesse in this third film. Joan Cusack is an incredible actress and she can balance humor and hubris with the best of them. Here, though, she is only given a character that is all anxiety. It is a complete regression after the character's turn and acceptance at the end of part 2.

The only one who shines through from the previous films is Buzz. Like in part 2, he is still taking charge as a de facto hero, but in this one he really seems to get the responsibility of his actions and decisions. Many people have brought up that it seems unrealistic and rather unfortunate that Buzz's grief over Andy's choosing of Woody over him isn't explored further. To me, this seems completely in line with the character as he has grown throughout the films. He doesn't have time to waste on sulking when there is work to be done. Mock him as yet another alpha male caricature in line with other Tim Allen performances, but deep down, this is the guy we would all want to be there for us. It speaks volumes that he is the one who reaches out to everybody when it looks like certain doom is unavoidable in the final act.

The real treat of Toy Story 3 is the further expansion of the universe that these toys live in. Sunnyside's prisoners and captors, as well as the toys Woody meets in the care of the young girl Molly, deliver some of the film's biggest charms. Aside from a lightly homo/transphobic reaction on the part of the other toys to the character of Ken, these toys are the real draw for part 3 in my eyes. The aforementioned Ken, while not the most well-defined character, is still a real hoot, due to the effortlessly charming performance by Michael Keaton. Big Baby is a fascinating monster, a mute unloved and discarded in the vein of Frankenstein's monster in the classic Universal movies. There is something primal and disturbing about the image of damaged baby dolls like that, and the makers of Toy Story 3 really tapped into that.

The prize winner though is Lots'O Huggin' Bear, aka Lotso. What a fantastic villain and what a great performance by Ned Beatty and the people at Pixar who put this bad boy together. As much as I love Toy Story 2, Lotso makes that film's villain Stinky Pete look downright harmless. Like the scariest prison wardens in the history of cinema when we first meet him he comes off as kindly, welcoming, before that warmth mutates into a steely reassurance that your ass is in his sling (think Patrick McGoohan in Escape From Alcatraz). His back story is an awesome discussion about how rejection can evolve into hatred and broken hearts can be used as weapons. Again, in a real world context, this dude would have turned his rejection against the women of the world, leaving monstrous destruction in his wake.

In the world of Molly's bedroom reside the toys who will provide everlasting optimism to Woody and his gang and his hard not to fall in love with them. Personally, I've always loved Timothy Dalton (defensive reviews of his two James Bond films will be for-sure future entries) and just hearing his voice in the character of Mr Pricklepants made me feel all warm and fuzzy. The keeper in this room is the oh so adorable triceratops Trixie, voiced by Kristen Schaal. Every character in the room (save for the clown) are steeped in bright, childlike innocence and Trixie is the ultimate example of that. Oh, and kudos to making Totoro one of Molly's toys. That's definitely a way to get on my good side.

The other fascinating thing about this entry is that for the first time I'm getting the real sense of wonder that is displayed when a child is fully engaged by the toys they love. Part 3's opening sequence is a real wonder actually. Neither of the previous entries were able to give such a full visualization of the warped creativity that comes from a child's playtime. Likewise, the final moments between Andy, Molly and their respective toys were so sweet and honest about unbridled imagination and joy. Even though it's earnestness may seem odd to adult ears, Andy's final farewell is heartfelt.

Toy Story 3's inventiveness and earnest nature are its saving graces. In many ways, the film is a regurgitation of many of the same themes, plots and emotions from the two previous films. The new characters and its preoccupation with looking at the toy's role in the child's lives, as opposed to vice versa, give it a life beyond its predecessors. But it is ultimately what should be the final chapter in this saga. Anything else would be fan service.

P.S. Just for the hell of it, My Top 5 Pixar Movies, in order:
1. Ratatouille
2. The Incredibles
3. Toy Story 2
4. Finding Nemo
5. Monsters, Inc.


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