Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

One of the first movies that I saw in a theater when I was a kid was Toy Story. Whether or not it was the actual first or not, I don't remember (that honor may go to The Lion King). I loved it. When we went to Disney World the next year as a family, the first characters I looked for were Woody and Buzz. When I found them and received their autographs, I was as happy as a 6-year-old kid could be; to this day I still have those autographs, as well as a picture of me with them.
I say all this because Toy Story has a special place in my heart. I was overjoyed when Toy Story 2 came out; even though I was now 10, I couldn't wait to see Woody and Buzz in action again. But when it was announced that Disney would make Toy Story 3 without Pixar (this was during the negotiation days), my doubts were numerous. I was afraid that Disney would tarnish my precious childhood memories of characters that I had grown to love. Even when Pixar came back on board, I was still nervous; excited, of course, but still nervous.
That being said, I was thoroughly impressed with Toy Story 3 when I saw it yesterday (in a theater full of children, no less; apparently it was someone's 8th birthday party). It lived up to most of my expectations. In this third installment, Andy's going to college, and Woody and the gang are making attempts to get noticed and played with so that they won't be thrown out. However, a mix-up leads to Woody being placed in the college box while the others are meant to go up into the attic, but instead end up on the curb. All of them eventually end up at Sunnyside Day Care, where a lovable stuffed bear named Lotso (short for Lots 'o' Huggin' Bear) welcomes them. Unfortunately, Lotso actually runs the place as a high-security prison, and it's up to the toys to break out and find their way back to Andy before he leaves.
All of the favorites return: Jessie, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog, the Pizza Planet aliens; it's a fit of nostalgia to see them as they grapple with the reality of their situation. The new characters are also fascinating, particularly Lotso and his sidekick, Big Baby; they provide villains whom you can't help but feel duped by.
I do have a few gripes about the film though. My biggest problem is that the film seems to have taken after other animated films (particularly Dreamworks films) in sacrificing some story and character development for the sake of jokes and pop culture references. This is something that has never really plagued Pixar films, and the fact that it has appeared in this one of all films is a little disheartening. That being said, its not as much of a burden to the film as it was in, say, Shrek the Third, but it is certainly troubling nonetheless. Another issue is that there was very little screentime for many of the new characters, many of which the producers went out of their way for to get big names to voice (such as Richard Kind, Timothy Dalton, and Bonnie Hunt). Pixar hasn't always been one to load their films with big voice talent, so this too is a little worrisome. It's possible that these could be partially to blame on Michael Arndt's screenplay, which is one of the few times that Pixar has brought in an outside writer.
But these grievances are minor compared to everything the film did right. For one, the film's theme of moving on comes at a time of transition in my own life, and I have to admit that that made the film even more personal to me. And the finale, which was surprisingly intense for a G-rated movie, had that trademark Pixar emotionalism that once again brought tears to my eyes (when you go to see it, I dare you not to cry during the last 10 minutes). And of course, there was the heart of it all: Woody and Buzz's unlikely friendship, which always shines through no matter what happens. For 108 minutes, I felt like that 6-year-old again.
On one final note: I've been reading a lot of articles about how Toy Story 3 is a lock for a Best Picture nomination. Now, it is definately the best movie I've seen so far this year, but I think it's a little early to be calling anything a lock. I have my doubts that, as good as Toy Story 3 was, it can make it into the field of 10 unless some of the major awards bait films turn out to be lackluster.

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