Toy Story 3 Review
(Lee Unkrich, 2010)
I’ve been reviewing movies for nearly seven years now, since late 2003. And every year, consistently, the review I look most forward to writing is the annual Pixar release. It’s become somewhat of a tradition for me to start off my Pixar reviews with the same sentence, and so here it is again, as it appeared in my reviews for The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up: Pixar never cease to amaze me. You’d think that by now, I of all people would take Pixar’s incomparable, inconceivable streak of quality for granted. And yet, the fact that the earlier statement remains relevant with each subsequent release is just further proof of just how daring and unafraid of taking risks this movie studio still is. After Disney’s buy-out of Pixar, the Mouse House backed down from their threats to produce a direct-to-DVD threequel to Toy Story without Pixar’s consent. It was a risky move on Pixar’s part to re-initiate the project and go forward with the film, considering what was at stake. Toy Story is and remains Pixar’s most popular and recognizable brand – it was their first film, a milestone in modern animation, the film that put them on the map, not to mention their only movie with a sequel (so far). Suffice to say that expectations were high, with legions of twenty-somethings hoping, praying that Pixar would do justice to the films they grew up on as children. I belong to this group, and I was anticipating the third film with equal measures of excitement and concern. As is often the case with Pixar films, the trailers for this film looked cute and endearing, but nothing in them indicated that this would be something really special. Well boy, was I wrong. After viewing the film, I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to the trilogy.
Movie sequels, when done right, always evoke an interesting emotion: It’s a warm feeling, like coming home after a long time away, and seeing that nothing has changed. These feelings are multiplied tenfold with films we particularly enjoy, have seen dozens of times, and have a special emotional connection with. The original gang has dwindled down since the first two films – logical, considering the eleven years that have passed since the events of Toy Story 2. What remains is a small, core group – a family, really – and viewers who grew up on the characters since the original films almost feel like a part of that family. This has always been Pixar’s strongest point – creating endearing and likeable characters that we as an audience genuinely sympathize with and have feelings for. Writing likeable and believable characters is one of the toughest things to do – just look at the heartless products other studios like Dreamworks churn out year after year (How to Train Your Dragon being the sole exception to that rule) – and yet, Pixar make it seem like child’s play. Ultimately, any movie studio that can evoke genuine emotional reactions to the trials and tribulations of a bunch of plastic toys gets my vote.
The film starts off with a bang: a grand, wildly imaginative sequence depicting one of Andy’s games as if it were actually happening, with a steam train chugging towards an exploded bridge, force fields, Ham spaceships, and everything. It is a wonderfully realized sequence that works on two levels: On the one hand, it is the perfect throwback to the first Toy Story, as it lifts most of its lines and events from the game we see Andy playing at the beginning of that film. On the other hand, it is a sequence so stylized and detailed and brilliantly visualized, Pixar simply could not have done it back in the early days of Toy Story 1 and 2. It was the perfect representation of just how far they have come, not only creatively but also technically. After the intro, we are launched right into the plot, which the creative minds made the smart decision to keep in line with the adventure-oriented formula of the first two films, in which the toys are accidentally taken away from their home, and need to make their way back. However, with Andy going away to college, this time around their plight has an added sense of melancholy. Most of the bulk of the film is made up by the adventures of the toys in Sunnyside Daycare center: they meet a plethora of new, well-crafted and well-written characters, including the sweet-but-sinister Lotso, who rules the daycare with an iron fist, and the ditzy Ken, who does his bidding. Lotso in particular is just a brilliantly-written villain: Unlike the sadistic Sid or the exaggeratedly evil Al the toy collector from the previous two films, Lotso is a fully realized and multi-layered villain, whose bitterness is explained by the past trauma of being replaced by his previous owner. The sequence in which Chuckles the clown explains what happened to Lotso all those years ago is quite touching, and for a moment helps create genuine sympathy for Lotso. The concept of the Day Care hierarchy is brilliant and creative, if quite cruel and somewhat dark for a children’s film, but another element Pixar excel in is comedy, and they have the dial turned to 11 in this film. From quirky characters to brilliant sight gags, the Day Care sequence had me in stitches, the highlight being the Spanish Buzz gag, which, I think, is probably Pixar’s funniest gag since the “Dory speaking whale” sequence from Finding Nemo. It had me laughing uncontrollably, as did many other gags during the film, and the whole stylization of the “prison escape” sequence was brilliantly executed. In fact, in many places the film intentionally evokes a highly stylized “prison movie” visual style, which was just a joy to see.
I should probably take time out from praising Pixar’s unparalleled storytelling abilities and for a moment address their technical prowess as well. There is no other way to describe it: This film just looks absolutely stunning. In their past few films, Pixar have really raised the bar for image quality in computer animated films, and it just amazes me how much love, care and attention goes into each shot. The lighting is absolutely gorgeous; the colors, the textures, the little details like specks of dust floating around in the sunbeams, or the character movements. It is just an amazing-looking, beautifully crafted film, and definitely the best-looking animated film I have seen so far this year. It also reinforced my opinion that 3D should be reserved for animated films only. I think that, when done right, the extra dimension really adds something to the animated film experience. As is the case with the best 3D films (such as Up and the previously mentioned How to Train Your Dragon), the 3D is not used as a gimmick or any kind of cheap ploy, but rather, merely helps to add some depth to the frame and place us closer to the action – it makes it all feel a little more real and tangible, which is certainly helpful in an animated film. The voice work also deserves some praise – all the principals from the previous films are back and better than ever – Hanks, Allen, Cusack, Shawn, Ratzenberger, Rickles… their distinct voices have become such an integral part of the characters, it’s hard to imagine them otherwise. The new additions to the voice cast also do a stellar job: Blake Clark is a perfect replacement for Jim Varney as the voice of Slinky, after Varney unfortunately passed away. Ned Beatty does a brilliant job as Lotso, who sounds lovable and inviting but whose actions are anything but. Michael Keaton is brilliant and hilarious as Ken, and Kristen Schaal (Mel from Flight of the Conchords) also stood out as particularly funny as the voice of Trixie the triceratops among the numerous other newcomers.
For its first two-thirds, the film is a solid 8/10 movie – enjoyable, funny, thrilling, but ultimately, not quite as daring or as unique as Pixar’s latest endeavors. However, in its final act, the film manages to raise itself to a level of profundity and emotional resonance that was wholly unexpected and really caught me off guard. The final sequence is one of the most nail-bitingly intense sequences I have seen in any recent film – the stakes are so high, the close calls are SO close, and in general, Pixar just prove, once again, how brilliant they are at constructing these thrilling sequences in which the stakes are so high, you can’t help but just digging into your armrest and biting your fist in a feeble attempt to relieve the tension. It was during the climax of this sequence that I broke down. Without going into too much detail, the characters go through something so shocking, so unbelievably mature and emotional and intense, that I just cried. And I don’t mean that my eyes got watery. I mean I full-out, tears-rolling-down-my-cheeks cried. I was overwhelmed with emotion – these characters just meant so much to me over the years; it’s an emotional connection that I don’t think I had with any other film characters, at least not with this intensity.
At the very end of the film, we are treated to a scene that is just the opposite – so beautiful, heartwarming, and just all-around wonderful, that I cried again. Except this time, they were tears of joy. I think many people overlook the fact that the crux of this trilogy is the relationship between Woody and Andy. Even though Andy is only a secondary character and barely appears in the films, he is actually probably the most important character of all: all of Woody’s actions, from his animosity towards Buzz in the first film to his crisis of loyalty in the second to the events of the third, his love for Andy is what drives him forward. At the end of this film, we are treated to the most perfect and fitting conclusion to their relationship and summation of the spirit of all three films: a sequence that takes place entirely from the human characters’ point of view, yet in which the toys are seen as having just as much character and personality as they do when we see them alive, walking around and talking.
Pixar can do no wrong. It seems fairly obvious by now, and yet, with each subsequent film they just reaffirm that sentiment. Any other movie studio would have no qualms with half-assing a sequel such as this one. It has a built-in audience, and would probably make piles of money either way. But Pixar doesn’t care about the money. They prove, time and time again, that the most important thing for them is to tell a good story, create sympathetic characters, and deliver a film that fires on all cylinders and works just as much as an emotional experience as it does as an entertainment. Their support and encouragement of strong storytelling has never been more evident as it has been in their last two films, on which they brought in external screenwriters from the world of independent film to add a unique touch that cannot be found in any other animated film. On Up, it was Thomas McCarthy, director of The Station Agent and The Visitor. And on Toy Story 3, they brought in Michael Arndt, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine, to contribute. It’s not a matter of what lines or story elements these screenwriters brought to the table, but rather, a testament of where Pixar’s priorities truly lay. And thanks to those priorities, we got to enjoy the perfect ending to this trilogy, and the perfect resolution to these characters we cherish and love. I honestly can’t think of a better way to end this film other than the way they did it, with the camera tilting up and ending on a frame of blue skies with white, puffy clouds – the exact same image as the first frame of the first Toy Story film. What a beautiful way to sum up what is without a doubt the single greatest animated trilogy of all time.
Great review...going in never thought it would stir up such emotion.
As I'm beginning my review of Toy Story 3, I glanced over to my 1 year old nephew Ryan, casually playing with an old wrestling toy, and it makes me remember the evolution of everyone's childhood. The essence of a simple action figure or doll that was so glorious and satisfying in our hey day. Now, as we grow up and move onto greener pastures, such as dating, hanging out with friends, or casually writing reviews on Facebook; there is always that nostalgic feeling every time a company brings back a toy that you played with back in the day. Now, Toy Story 3 brings back that childhood nostalgic feeling, not just for the past love that has come and gone for our toys, but the remaining magic that it's previous entries had on some of our hearts.
Toy Story 3, the film, was in a moment where movies in it's category could lose its luster, and can no longer attain the magic that they once had with the previous films. However, director Lee Unkrich, co-director of Toy Story 2, and the Pixar team seems to know the audience that is going to see this movie. The children that are now adults, as well as the children who were introduced to the previous films as well. The result? A film that nails every expectation that this reviewer had, as well as providing a excellent movie for the kids who are being introduced to the Toy Story films. I feel even embarrassed for even having some sort of doubts for this movie, as just about every nuance and small moment that went through this movie was just so satisfying for someone who grew up with this series.
The film follows years after the events of Toy Story 2, and the moment where Andy would forget about Woody (Voiced by Tom Hanks) and the gang has already come to pass.For Woody, his need for Andy to remember them overshadows the truth, while the rest of the toys are simply accepting to accept the fact that Andy has simply moved on. This leads to a series of events in which the toys are brought to a day care called Sunnyside, which leads Woody on a mission to return to Andy. There is much more to the story, but it would be crime to even spoil even the smallest moments of this movies.
The first thing to be enamored with is to see how far Pixar has come from since their 1995 debut. the opening perfectly indicates it, showing the technology that has grew over the years, as well as the smallest references that all fans can pick up on. It's such a treat to witness all that in the first few minutes of the movie, and to realize that this is simply the beginning of the film.
The film then brings around the small melancholy feeling that was somewhat apparent at the ending of Toy Story 2, for the characters of the film, as well as the movie goers who have grown up to this film. This is evident that such a simple comment that Rex gives to Woody in the beginning, driving home the change that has gone on. A small pinpoint on the desperation and loss that the toys have gone through, as well as possible reason that Woody is trying to get Andy's attention again. However, while there is sadness, there is just much to laugh and enjoy as well, with the adventure that we all know that they will experience, and that just makes it all the more thrilling with what Pixar can do now. One such sequence near the end of the epitome of what Disney is, and what it will be in the future. The small, scary moments that have been in Disney films over the years, as well as the excitement that we have always shared in Disney films. It doesn't hurt that some Hollywood stars that did some voice work in past Pixar and Disney movies are throughout this film, making not just a film for Toy Story and Pixar fans, but for fans of Disney as well.
As for the voice work, it's like the characters have never left. For Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, they slip right back in their characters, Hanks as Woody and Allen as Buzz respectively. When their voices come out,I never associate the actors like some animation movies. It's always the character first, the voice of the character second. From Don Rickles and Estelle Harris as Mr. and Mrs. Potato head, to Wallace Shawn as Rex and Joan Cusack as Jessie. Even Blake Clark, the voice replacement for late Jim Varney's Slinky Dog, does a great service for Varney, acting as if he never left. For the new additions, Ned Beatty as Lotso Huggins Bear and Michael Keaton as Ken were welcome additions, adding to the already emotional and hilarious story. Like I said, There are many other voices that some followers of Pixar and Disney will pick up on, but I think it would be better for you guys to pick up on them yourself.
Overall, Toy Story 3 is the sequel that comes around every once and a while to close out the trilogy with a bang. The type of movie sequel that always seems to fizzle like many other movies at the end of a trilogy, but instead shine just as bright as the previous entries. I have only seen it once, but I can't wait to see it again with my nephew Connor and my sister Kellie. It's the type of movie that works on every level, delivering on your massive expectations, and making you walk away from a movie feeling so satisfied and warm that you wonder where this has been in previous trilogies these past years.
Thank you Pixar for delivering a movie that is, so far, my favorite movie of the summer, and quite possibly the year. To Infinity and Beyond indeed.
What a fantastic review, Mr.Hyde. Glad you liked it as well :)
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