Monday, June 21, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

In so many ways, Toy Story 3 is a nostalgia film. It’s been 15 years since the original flick trampolined Pixar to the forefront of modern animation, and 11 since the sequel championed the cause. It’s a franchise about childhood, about magic and imagination, and in this third installment, the sentimentality those things take on as we transition away from our youth. So while nostalgic sentiment isn’t the ONLY thing driving this latest rendition, it is the primary tool, the entertainment game plan, and really the deciding factor in your ultimate reaction to it.

The Pixar method is a simple one – build a house with a strong story foundation, fill it with cuteness, life lessons and wholesome family values, shingle it with top-line animation, then place it under an edgy, threatening storm and let it rain. The structure is sturdy, time-worn and damn near infallible. When you walk into a Pixar film, you do so with confidence, certain the upcoming production will be nothing short than expert.

And in that respect, Toy Story 3 is no different than its predecessors. Characters like Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) are already proven, and the new ones (particularly this edition’s “storm cloud” entry, in the form of an old, cuddly but cold teddy bear named Lotso) compliment a familiarly confident cast. The animation is classically 1995 with subtle, new millennium improvements. It comes in first class Disney 3-D, but the quality is just as strong in regular ‘ole 2-D.

The plot is solid, if predictable – toy owner Andy is going off to college, and Mom’s making him clean out his room in preparation. He’s transitioning away from his toys, and as a result they wind up in the Lotso-run Sunnyside Day Care, homeless and lost. Toy Story 3 is about the toys finding their place in a new reality, and the Pixar boys approach that tale with understanding, adventure, and heart.

It’s all so very well crafted, the film itself an expensive and shiny new toy, wrapped in choo-choo train paper and a teased tinsel bow. It’s a fitting and justified sequel, as charming and endearing as its predecessors. Everything in Toy Story 3 is so very, very pleasant.

Yet while the perfection of the production is undeniable, the emotional pull of the film is somewhat lacking. If you’re a Toy Story nut, or even if it simply holds a special place in your heart, you will love every second of this quality blockbuster. And if you think fondly of your childhood and the toys that filled it, you’ll feel a sentimental yearning as the film moves to its typically heartstring-pulling final destination.

But if you set all this aside, if you strip Toy Story 3 of its cozy nostalgia sweater, what you are left with is a film you’ve seen before, in many different ways.

The Toy Story flicks have never been the funniest in the Pixar cannon, and that trend continues here. There are laughs, but this isn’t a comedy. It’s a drama, of the family variety, and the drama isn’t always that interesting. The characters don’t really change or grow – they stay true to themselves, and the familiarity the Toy Story fans are here for. This is a quality, but it dramatically limits the stakes.

Without the investment in character journey, we’re left with the sites and ideas we’ve already seen twice – the same characters in the same animations, every new setting just a slight deviation of the last. Not a lot has changed, and that’s both a good and a somewhat bad thing.

I always appreciated the Toy Stories, but I never loved them. A lot of people completely disagree with that, and I have no doubt that those people will really love this movie (as I’m sure any kid still wowed by talking toys will). It is very well done. Sitting in the theater with families and their fathers this weekend, I appreciated the movie unfolding in front of me as a quality effort, but it wasn’t until the third act – when the adventure really took hold, when Lotso began to develop as a character, and when my childhood sentimentality strings were tweaked and pulled – that I really enjoyed Toy Story 3.

And in those 30 minutes alone, I saw enough to dub this flick the new leader in our Summer Blockbuster Smackdown. Updated standings:

1.) Toy Story 3

2.) The A-Team

3.) Iron Man 2

4.) Get Him to the Greek

5.) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

6.) Shrek 4

1 comment:

The Bru said...

Can I confess something? I haven't seen any of the Toy Story's yet? Eeeeeeek!

Very well written review, by the way.


Related Posts with Thumbnails