Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Toy Story 3

It’s been eleven years since the last Toy Story, and being Pixar’s flagship title (the original Toy Story was their first feature film back in 1995) I guess it was only natural for them to leave it in the hands of Lee Unkrich, in his first solo directorial effort (after co-directing Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo). I assume John Lasseter, who directed the first two in the series, was too busy making Cars 2 to helm this one. What the lack of Lasseter’s hand means is that this is the weakest of the three films, though it must be said that Unkrich still does a good job making this into what is easily the darkest and gloomiest of all of Pixar’s films to date.

See, not only have eleven years passed in the real world between Toy Story 2 and 3, but in the film world itself Andy, the boy who owns all the toys, is now in his late teens and getting ready to go to college. He plans to store away all his old toys (the ones he still has, that is; poor Bo Peep got sold at a yard sale long ago) up in the attic, but due to a misunderstanding between him and his mom, the toys get put out for the trash. Feeling betrayed, the toys take it upon themselves to relocate to a nursery school, where they’ll have a small army of children to play with them. Unfortunately, the toy end of the nursery school is headed by Lotso the Bear (Ned Beatty), a seemingly nice old man that has his own ideas about how they’re all going to fit in there…

One thing I like about Pixar is that they seem to be outright incapable of making a bad movie. I’ve seen every one of their movies except Cars, and A Bug’s Life was the only weak one in the whole bunch (curiously, that was directed by Lasseter). This one may wobble at times, but it’s still pretty clever and touching, capturing the pain of toys who have outlasted their owner’s interest in them, and what kind of life (or lack thereof) that would create. It’s also nice how they managed to retain all the old voice actors: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, even John Morris (Andy) are all back, and joined by Beatty and Michael Keaton (who plays a downright inspired Ken). One of the most important aspects to movies like this is a collection of interesting, likable characters, and Toy Story 3 is packed with them.

Unfortunately, while the film has a good many highlights (Spanish Buzz being the best, though the opening adventure is a close second), the pacing is also pretty off, leaving the film dragging at times. Further, presumably due to the long gap between the films, it also feels the need to play sort of like a greatest hits at times with its characters, trying to get in all of their catchphrases several times (not only do we hear the lines “There’s a snake in my boot!” and “To infinity and beyond!” far too many times, but we even return to the three aliens and their worship of the claw) to try to garner cheap audience applause. Sorry, but unless said catchphrase is either “Cooooobrrraaaaaa!” or “Cobra-Lalalalalalalalalalalala!”, I remain unmoved.

The movie is still good, if rather emotionally draining (we’re essentially dealing with Toy Hell here, or at least Toy Purgatory), it’s just that the shoes it had to fill may have been a little too big (Full disclosure: when I saw Toy Story 2 in the theater, I literally fell out of my chair at one point because I was laughing so hard. This may not have been a normal reaction). It’s a movie well worth seeing, though I do have to say, newer parents may want to keep in mind that it is a little bit darker than one would expect from a G film. Of course, I went to see Gremlins when I was three and loved it, so as long as you haven’t raised your kid to be a total wuss they should still enjoy it. If you don’t know if they can handle it, that’s just all the more reason to make them see it. Frankly, they sound like they need to toughen up a little.

Rating: ***

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