Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Toy Story 3

I really don't know why I put off seeing Pixar movies all the time.  I have enjoyed every one I've seen, and they have made some of my absolute favorite animated movies of all time.  When Toy Story 3 was released, I decided I was going to definitely see it in the theaters.  I didn't.  When it was released on DVD, I decided to pick it up (with a coupon from Disney's website) on Day 1.  I think I ended up watching it around Day 110.  Maybe I just have to be in the right mood to watch a kid's movie.  Maybe I heard everybody saying "It was so good, but so sad...!"  Whatever my reasons for waiting, I have finally seen Toy Story 3.  I shouldn't have waited so long.

If you're unfamiliar with the Toy Story series, here's a brief summary.  Your toys are alive.  You might not notice it, but when you're not looking, all the toys in your home move around on their own, talk, play games, and live their own mini-dramas.  The human in Toy Story is Andy.  We watch his toys come to life.  And now you're caught up.

Toy Story 3 picks up several years after Toy Story 2 ended, with the characters having aged in real-time.  Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and their friends still belong to Andy (John Morris, the same kid from the first two movies), but Andy is seventeen now.  He's getting ready for college, and hasn't played with his toys in years.  When it comes time to pack for school, the toys fear that they will be thrown away or donated to a day care center, like so many of their fellow toys have been in the past few years.  After being pressured by his mom to pack up or throw out his belongings, Andy finally decides what to do with his toys.  He packs Woody in a box that is going to college with him and tosses the others in a trash bag; Andy intends to place the bag in the attic, but the bag is accidentally thrown away instead.  The toys are taken to the dump, and the next two hours is filled with the sound of Don Rickles crying.
A much better Oscar promo than I would have expected from Disney.

Actually, no.  The toys escape the trash bag, find a box heading to the daycare center, and hop in.  Woody tries to convince them that they actually belong in the attic, but nobody is listening.  They feel rejected, and they want to be played with (the innocent kind), so that is where they want to go.  Woody argues that they all belong to Andy, and need to be there for him, in whatever capacity he needs.  While they are arguing, the box is packed up and taken to the day care center, with Woody and the gang inside.  Once there, they are met with an enthusiastic welcome from the day care toys, led by Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty).  Day care seems absolutely perfect; there are no owners to tire of the toys and throw them away --- when the kids grow up, new kids come in.  They are guaranteed hours of play time in the day, and hours of unsupervised night time.  It's the perfect life for a toy, right?  But what about Andy?  Aren't they still his toys?  Is it more important for the toys to be with Andy or each other?  What should happen to old toys when their owners grow up?  And why are the day care toys hiding from the incoming toddlers?
It must suck to own shirts that are more awesome than your tattoos
There are a ton of characters in this film, and many of them are voiced by recognizable actors.  Of course, there is the core duo of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, for starters.  As usual, they bear much of the narrative load, and Hanks once again handles most of the drama.  And, once again, they do great jobs.  Joan Cusak and Ned Beatty have the next biggest roles, as the cowgirl Jessie and Lots-O', respectively; I thought Cusak was fine, but Beatty did a very good job playing both sides of his character.  The rest of the cast included Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Timothy Dalton, Bonnie Hunt, R. Lee Ermey, as well as the voices of some of the animators.  The voice acting was very good, but it was missing a staple of animated movies.  Where was the obvious comic relief?  Aside from Spanish Buzz, I can't think of any character that didn't have depth, and that shows how different Toy Story 3 is from just about every other animated movie out there.  This isn't a cartoon that is showing off how goofy a comedian can sound (sorry, Robin Williams); this is an ensemble piece that has well-known actors playing smaller parts for the greater good.

Pixar tends to rotate its directors around on every project.  Someone who is a supervising editor on one movie may co-direct the next,and do a little bit of editing on the next; basically, if you watch enough Pixar movies, you're going to see the same names popping up over and over.  This is Lee Unkrich's first solo outing as a director (and only the third solo director credit on any Pixar movie) after three successful co-directing runs, and he has a story credit, too.  This is Michael Arndt's second screenplay, and his second Academy Award-nominated screenplay.  Despite the cast of thousands, this is a very personal film, and I believe that having only one screenwriter and one director (both anomalies with animated films) contributed greatly to that.  I thought both the screenwriting and the direction were excellent and the two are responsible for the intimacy and heartfelt effect this movie has on viewers.

You can't pinpoint the source of this film's greatness quite so easily, though.  Yes, the cast did a great job with their voice-over work.  Yes, the story is complex enough for adults and fun enough for kids.  And, yes, the themes of growing up, moving on, and sweet sadness are universal ones that everyone knows (or will soon).  But I think the overwhelming reason Toy Story 3 is so good is its imagination.  Playtime for the toys is seen as a big-budget adventure movie, just like it is in a child's imagination.  The scale of the movie feels so natural and the way the toys navigate around obstacles like locked doors makes sense, and yet you could spend a compelling twenty minutes having the characters figure these problems out.  Toy Story 3 doesn't bother with the small stuff because it has a much wider lens than that.  This is a movie that goes from "horror" of the sandbox to some legitimately scary scenes at the dump.  It doesn't settle for trite morals, like "girls are people, too" (Monsters vs. Aliens) or "be yourself" (Shrek).  Instead, it paints a picture that hits deeper, rings truer, and feels astoundingly real.

Honestly, I wasn't prepared for this film.  I enjoy animated movies, but they usually don't blow me away, and the more I think about it, the more I am impressed by this film.  I would liken Toy Story 3 to Alan Moore's Watchmen; both stories are told in mediums where you think you know what to expect, but both go well beyond the boundaries of what would normally be considered a kid's movie or a comic book.  And the best part of all of this is also the most important: it works as a kid's movie.  A really, really good kid's movie.  What a brilliant idea.


  1. Marry me??!

    I know this shouldn't be top of my list for commenting, but i just has to be, where did you get your t-shirt? I MUST have it.

    I totally agree with you. This Toy stoy was/is so much more than any other pixar film. It has all the depth, trauma and comedy of some of the great films. I did not expect this, especially since it is the third in a series.
    As an avid toy story fan, there was no doubt that i was going to walk away singing its praises. However, even i was so shocked how wonderfully written, directed, performed this film was. Most certainly did not expect to leave with my t-shit (appropriately warn 'hello cowboy' t-shit) soaked with my own tears!

  2. Oh, man, I wish that was actually me in the photograph. That is actually a shirt given only to members of the Pixar tech crew that were working on the movie. I haven't been able to find any online, but I guess somebody could put one up on eBay eventually. Here's a link to the other awesome shirts the crew had:

    As for the whole marriage thing, I'm flattered. I'll have to run it by my wife first.