Movie Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 is kid’s movie, pure and simple. After Up and Wall-E and every other Pixar flick that wasn’t really about lovable goofballs and slapstick comedy and eye-popping 3D, it’s kind of nice to know that the studio can turn one of these out every now and again. Not that Toy Story 3 isn’t without its lessons or its humanity—it just manages to balance the two with physical comedy that’s more akin to old Loony Tunes cartoons than it is to Dreamworks’ Kung-Fu Panda. It’s actually pretty jarring to see Pixar so effortlessly get right what their rivals have been trying to do, with middling success, for the better part of ten years.
Maybe Pixar has Dreamworks at an advantage. The original Toy Story did two things: Like Loony Tunes, it established a universe and characters endearing and popular enough that audiences can return to them whenever they want without feeling lost, and it set the template that Dreamworks has been following ever since: Big name stars + computer animation + tie-in friendly characters = big cash. What’s amazing is that Pixar hardly follows that formula itself—Wall-E being the most striking example—and while Tom Hanks is big and Tim Allen was big, Woody and Buzz were real characters being inhabited by the actors, rather than computer-animated things modeled to look and act as much like the star voicing them as possible.
So Toy Story 3 doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on things like character development because, be honest, you already know these guys. Name one of the Kung-Fu Panda’s friends. Now try naming somebody who isn’t Woody or Buzz. Almost ten years after the last time we saw them, Andy, the owner of the toys, is heading off to college. We find out that he really hasn’t played with his toys much in the past few years and that he now must decide if the toys in his toy box are going to the garbage, to the attic, to a daycare, or to college. Woody is the only toy that makes the cut to go to school. The rest of the gang—that is, the ones who’ve survived a seemingly never-ending cycle of garage sales and trash days—are thrown into a garbage bag that is destined for the attic until Andy’s mom mistakes it for garbage and hauls it to the curb. Eventually, everybody makes it to Sunnyside Daycare, which seems like heaven to a bunch of neglected toys, what with playtime lasting from nine to five.
Naturally, things aren’t so sunny at Sunnyside. It’s ruled by Lotso (Ned Beatty), a cuddly bear who smells of strawberries and is pretty resentful of a)humans and b)new toys. Think Woody from the first movie mixed with Emperor Palpatine, complete with his Vader-like monolith of a bodyguard, Big Baby. He assigns Andy’s old toys to age-inappropriate toddlers whose idea of playing involve paint, dismemberment, and closed-head injury. Buzz, the leader of the gang in Woody’s absence, tries to get the group reassigned to the big kid’s room and winds up getting reset. He becomes the warden of what amounts to toy gulag. Meanwhile, Woody tries to make his way back to Andy, making a brief detour at one of the daycare kid’s homes. There, he meets a new crew of toys and learns about what really goes on at Sunnyside. True to his nature, Woody decides to save the day before going off to college.
While it isn’t as heavy on philosophy as previous Pixar (or, heck, Toy Story) movies, Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang still find the time to learn about growing up and moving on. As neglected toys, they are wistful. They remember good times, old owners, friends lost. When Woody responds to a mention of Bo Peep, who he was pretty sweet on in the previous movies, it is with remorse, which is rare of any movie whose characters can be bought at the local Wal-Mart. Even Lotso, the clear-cut bad guy, suffers from his inability to deal with pain, and there’s a clown toy that, impossibly for a clown toy, is unable to smile. In another movie, all of this would be overbearing. Here, there’s humor, well-paced action, and an implausibly great ending sequence that, were it not for other implausibly great sequences throughout other Pixar movies, would be alone among computer animated films for its striking humanity. A lot of people are crying over it, like a lot of people cried over Up and Wall-E. I cried, too, which is tough duty as a single man in a room full of strangers and their children. Whatever button Pixar found that makes adults cry during kids movies about toys, robots, and old curmudgeonly men, they’ve decided to mash it relentlessly.
You’d be a fool to spend the extra money on the 3D glasses. If it isn’t enough that orange and blue don’t dominate the color palate (the computer animated humans look more human than the humans in Transformers 2, as do the toys) or that everything is as sharp and crisp as you’ve come to expect from Pixar, you can still save yourself the five bucks by rubbing your eyes raw every five minutes or by using the adjective “eye-popping” in at least one conversation you have about the film. There are no gimmick shots. Nothing flies out from the screen. This was very obviously a movie made to be seen in 2D, without distraction. Do it right. Do it justice.
Toy Story 3. Directed by Lee Unkrich. With Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Joan Cusack (Jessie), and Ned Beatty (Lotso). Released June 18, 2010, by Walt Disney Pictures.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.