by Jay Seaver
"Toy Story 3" is "Toy Story 2" redux, but that's setting sights high rather than cashing in - after all, they did wait over ten years to go back to that well. And while there is something a little disappointing about treading the same territory twice, it sets up a finale that pays off the questions raised in the second film.As Pete the Prospector said back then, kids grow up. Andy (voice of John Morris) is seventeen and heading to college, and his toys haven't been played with in a long time. Andy selects cowboy doll Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) to come to school with him, but puts his remaining toys - Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen), Slinky Dog (voice of Blake Clark), Bullseye, Jesse (voice of Joan Cusack), Rex (voice of Wallace Shawn), Hamm (voice of John Ratzenberger), and Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head (voices of Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) into the attic. A mix-up has them at the curb on trash day, and though they escape, they decide they're better off joining the toys Andy's sister is donating to a local day care center. The senior toys there, Lotso Huggin Bear (voice of Ned Beatty) and Ken (voice of Michael Keaton) seem welcoming, but... Well, what follows is a madcap delight as Pixar spends the bulk of the movie doing the two things that Pixar does best, before getting to their more recent skill.
"It's an elaboration on Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 2 was fantastic."
The first is to introduce a whole raft of new characters - not only at Sunnyside Day Care, but in the bedroom of a little girl who goes there. It's a riot of creativity to rival the first film, every new toy with a fully-realized personality and voice that fits their design perfectly - and not always by being exactly what you expect! One thing that is nice to see this time around is that there are more women and girls in the cast; the previous two films in the series were by and large boy-toy stories, and this really feels like a broader, more varied cast.
The second, of course, is chases. Going to the movies would be a lot more fun if the people making PG-13 and R-rated action/adventure movies could present a set-piece as well as these guys have been doing since they had an RC car chase a moving van fifteen years ago. Here, the action is a series of daring escapes, including one that would be the climax of a great prison-break movie but which has one more big number to go. For a G-rated movie, it's pretty intense, too, with shots that bring to mind old World War II movies and a moment that is beautiful and heartfelt but also tinged with tragedy. I don't think it's more than a six-year-old can handle, though - it's emotional, but not held long enough or presented sadistically enough to be terrorizing.
(These sequences are nicely "shot", in terms of director Lee Unkrich and company making good choices with how to use their virtual cameras and lights. Although I believe that, unlike Up, Toy Story 3 was created with 3-D in mind, it only rarely makes use of that sense of depth; not very much will be lost if someone chooses to save a few bucks and see it in standard 35mm or DLP.)
The emotional hit that the audience takes during that last action scene leads us to Pixar's newest trick - they can make the audience cry. Their ability to deliver that sort of gut-punch was first made clear in Toy Story 2's "When She Loved Me" song, and given that this film's story is basically Buzz, Woody, and company confronting that dilemma head-on rather than by hearing about Jessie's long-ago experiences, we all know what's coming. Because of that, we're not blindsided by the film's last few scenes - we're rather like Andy's mother, who knew this day was coming eventually, in that sense - but that doesn't mean that the very finality of this film's conclusion doesn't hit us like a ton of bricks. It's a fitting ending, and one which the Pixar has spent fifteen years earning.
That said, Toy Story 3 likely works extremely well for the large chunk of its audience that wasn't born when the second movie came out, let alone the first. Only a few moments require prior knowledge, although nearly every moment in the film will reward the loyal fan in some way. The closest thing I have to a complaint is that it's impossible to miss the similarities to Toy Story 2 - as fantastic as Ned Beatty is as Lotso, his character is very much built from the same pieces as Pete, with the toys confronting the same fears - although, when you get right down to it, all three movies are about the fear of obsolescence; the first just presented it as a metaphor for getting a new younger brother/sister versus 2 and 3 both being about a child leaving home. The characters also have to confront a less-friendly/clueless Buzz, for the third time in three movies.So maybe "Toy Story 3" is attempting to recreate what I feel to be a perfect movie in "Toy Story 2" (and the original is pretty close to flawless as well). They come a heck of a lot closer than many of the other attempts to follow-up or remake something great, and few do it so well while also creating so much that is new and delightful.
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originally posted: 06/25/10 16:03:01