Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Toy Story 3" (2010)

Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack
Written by Michael Arndt
Directed by Lee Unkrich

There comes a time in every child's life where we simply outgrow the things we have - whether its clothes, or certain interests, or toys.  While I've maintained an interest in many of the things I enjoyed when I was younger (certainly, comics and animation still occupy a large chunk of my time) I have long-since packed away all those old action figures and models in my parents' basement.  If that box even still exists, who knows. 

"Toy Story 3" finds Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang from Pixar's hugely successful series in just that situation.  Andy (John Morris) is now grown and going to college.  His mother tells him anything that doesn't get packed in the attic or thrown out in the trash will be donated.  Due to a mixup, his childhood toys including Buzz, Jesse (Joan Cusack), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, taking over for the late Jim Varney), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Andy's sister's Barbie (Jodie Benson) end up in the trash.  Thinking that Andy threw them out on purpose, the toys escape the trash and decide to allow themselves to be donated to the local daycare.

Once there, they're met by the seemingly kindly leader of the community of toys at Sunnyside Daycare: Lots O' Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty), known as Lotso.  He's joined by other toys such as Big Baby and Ken (Michael Keaton), whom Barbie falls instantly in love with.  But Woody isn't content to stay here, insistent that Andy is their owner and his house is their home, regardless of whether Andy plays with them as he used to or not.  He escapes, leaving the other toys behind.

Soon enough, however, the other toys realize that things are not as they seem at Sunnyside.  Lotso is not a kind, benevolent leader, but instead the warden of a vicious prison where new toys are sacrificed to the younger children at the daycare so that Lotso and the others can live a life of luxury.  Lotso and his thugs manage to reprogram Buzz back to "demo mode" and use him to keep the other toys in line.  Woody, meanwhile, falls in with the toys of a girl named Daisy who tell him the truth about Lotso and Sunnyside.  Woody must figure out a way to get back into Sunnyside and rescue his friends and get home before Andy leaves forever.  But Lotso and the other Sunnyside toys aren't going to just let them leave.

"Toy Story 3" at first seems like kind of a "why bother?" sort of situation.  It seemed Pixar had moved on from these characters, and really, "Toy Story 2" was so great, how were they going to top it?  "Toy Story 3" doesn't top the second movie, but it does have a lot to offer the franchise.

What's surprising about "Toy Story 3" is how mature it is.  There's a sort of sadness that permeates the film, as though the entire story feels like a bittersweet "Goodbye."  Ultimately, there's a happy ending, and there is, of course, tons of silliness going on through the entire thing.  But there's very much a "this is it" sense about the entire proceeding.  Nowhere is this more evident, however, than in the film's climax at a garbage dump.  Shockingly, the characters are put in actual, mortal danger and forced to confront their own demise.  This sequence is beautifully animated and a great scene overall, but... damn, man.  It's rather intense for a story about a bunch of toys trying to get home.  The previous movies had a sense of danger for the toys, whether it was next door neighbor Scud and his magnifying glass in the first movie or the airport baggage claim in the second, but "Toy Story 3" literally puts its characters into an incinerator and has them all resign themselves to the fact that they're going to die.

Pixar has been taking some risks of late (the opening sequence of "Up" is possibly the ballsiest opening to a family film I've ever seen), but this is pretty dark territory. 

I hate to have my entire review fixate on one single moment in the climax of the film, but it's really what sticks with me after having watched it.  The rest of the movie is totally worthwhile.  Pixar's animation has been improving with each new venture, and "Toy Story 3" is easily their most gorgeous, detailed movie.  The surface textures and lighting on not only the environments and objects but the human characters has improved by quantum leaps since "Toy Story" came out in 1995.  The cast is still a hoot, delivering perfectly charming performances.  They really give the sense that these characters have become a family.  The new cast members work out great, as well.  Michael Keaton is hilarious as Ken, and Ned Beatty makes Lotso a terrific villain.

The movie is loaded with references to the previous movies, like having the Pizza Planet delivery truck show up, or the squeeze toy aliens' continued obsession with "the clawwwww".  These are nice ways to call back to the previous movies, and tie everything together for the nice, happy capper at the end.

"Toy Story 3" surprised me.  Initially I was wary to its very existence, but it's a fine film.  Not quite as funny as the previous movie, but far more dramatic.  I think "Toy Story 3" isn't made for young kids today; I think it was made for kids who grew up with the "Toy Story" franchise.  I'm probably in the upper ends of that... I was already a teenager when the first came around, but at the time it was a watershed moment in film so, y'know, everyone saw it.  Still, this is a franchise that is comprised of three great films... whether or not I'm in the target demographic, who cares?