June 21, 2010

Classically Trained

Ok, that's it! I'm actually starting to get worried here! I mean, seriously! How do they do it? Sure, they are talented filmmakers, but, even the best in the biz has a misfire every now and then. So, what the hell Pixar? What is your secret? How do all your films (except Cars) manage to be so good. You have even managed to leap over the usual obstacles that usually plague kids films, especially kids films that also happen to be sequels. Toy Story 3 not only manages to live up to the legacy set by its two older brothers, but also manages to close out the only consistently excellent film trilogy in history on a ridiculously high note! I will explain that brash claim in a bit. Toy Story 3 is sweet, funny, and entertaining, but, as has become tradition with Pixar, more mature then most, if not all, movies out there.

The toys are back in town!

Toy Story 3 picks up many years after Toy Story 2 ended. Andy, having grown up, is college bound and, as such, has forgotten about his favorite pastime. The toys, led, as always, by Woody and Buzz, are terrified of what will happen to them. Will they be condemned to the isolation of the attic, or the doom of the landfill? Well, through some weird twist of fate, all the toys end up at Sunnyside Daycare, where they are quickly enthralled by the prospect of constantly being played with. It becomes clear, however, that Sunnyside ain't all it's cracked up to be. Led by the cute and cuddly on the outside, sinister on the inside, Lots-o-Huggin' Bear, the "residents" of the daycare reveal a darker side to them. Soon, the toys quickly realize that their new accommodations are more akin to a prison then a paradise. As with all Pixar films, the story seems trite and cliched on the outside, but, peel back the cover, and you see the multitude of layers at the center. Toy Story, at it's core, has always been an examination of mortality, and the effect it can have on someone, be they made of flesh or plastic. Throughout the first two, Woody and Buzz had to come to the realization that they are the playthings of a human, and that their days of bringing joy to him were numbered. Toy Story 3 finally sees that day come, and the toys suddenly realize that they aren't ready for the end. That's what makes Pixar so special. They take inhuman characters, and impart human characteristics, emotions, and behaviors on to them. They have never faltered in this venture, and Toy Story 3 is not about the break the cycle. You completely buy the arc that Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Hamm, the Potato Heads, Slinky, and the Little Green Men go through as the world they had lived in for so long quickly comes to an end. Some wonderful new characters are introduced, and all do a lot to enrich and deepen the plot. 

The principle voice cast all return. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Allen, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, and Wallace Shawn all reprise their roles from the previous two films. They do just as a good job as they did in those, so I won't talk about them. I'll use this space to talk about the new additions to the cast. As Lots-o-Huggin' Bear, Ned Beatty is charming, sweet, and friendly one moment, but cruel, malicious, and downright evil the next. His is the best type of villain, one that doesn't seem like the bad guy at first. I know. The fact that he is the bad guy was revealed in the trailers, but, even so. I felt something resembling surprise when he showed his true colors. Michael Keaton makes his Pixar debut as Ken, the, well, Ken doll. As the only bad guy to feel a little unsettled by what's going on in Sunnyside, Keaton does a great job. Ken is a confused character. He will frequently snap at someone for calling him a "girl's toy", but then take part in a modeling montage! The last character I feel the need to mention is small, and doesn't have very many lines, but stole the movie, in my mind. Timothy Dalton, as the professional Mr. Pricklepants, is downright hysterical! As part of a troupe of toys who see their play time with their owner as an acting gig, Dalton is an inspired thespian. He is not keen on "breaking character" when the kid isn't around, and muses on whether or not Woody has been "classically trained". It's awesome! As with all Pixar movies, the voice work is not a throwaway gag. The actors aren't doing this just for a paycheck! They layer each of their characters with enough emotion and heart that you easily believe their turmoil. All animation studios need to take cues from Pixar, not only in storytelling and quality of animation, but especially in voice work, because that's something they can match Pixar in. All the technology in the world can't hurt a quality vocal performance. There really is no excuse. 

Come play with us, forever and ever. 

One thing that should be mentioned is that Toy Story 3 is probably the most frightening of all the films under the Pixar brand. There some aspects in the film, that, I'll admit, kinda scared me, and I'm 18. Near the end, the movie delves into some pretty dark territory, as the motivations behind Bear's actions are revealed. The final sort of action scene is incredibly intense, so much so that you actually fear, not for the well being of the toys, but their very survival. And, finally, Toy Story 3 might be the only film in the history of the world to make a toy baby terrifying! That's not to say that this film is just a festival of frights and dark, malicious, undertones. Oh no. This is a sweet and hysterical movie. There are some truly inspired comedic moments. My favorite characters in this franchise, the panic stricken Rex, the looney and detached LGMs, and the certifiably insane Hamm, all have their moments to shine, and they all left me rollicking. Mr. Pricklepants puts on a production of Romeo and Juliet, with an LGM as Juliet! Mr. Potatohead is forced to stick his appendages into a tortilla and use it as his body. He then gets in a fight with a pigeon when it tries to eat him. And, finally, Buzz goes through some mechanical glitches, and becomes stuck on spanish mode, making him a suave, tango dancing, sex machine! It's a rib cracking good time. 

Before I wrap this up, let me explain my brash claim from up top. If you think about it, the Toy Story trilogy is the only one in existence that has stayed consistently excellent. Every film either lived up to, or surpassed, the one that came before it. I cannot think of any other trilogy that can profess to doing the same. For the record, I am not counting Lord of the Rings in this, as it was filmed as one big movie and then split up! Think about it. Both The Godfather and the original Star Wars trilogies suffered form subpar third chapters, Indiana Jones failed to recapture the magic of Raiders in all its sequels, The Matrix just fell apart halfway through the second one, and does anyone even remember the last Back to the Future movie? When you stop to think about it, really analyze it, Toy Story is the perfect example of how to consistently elevate a product with each new installment. Nobody does it better. 

Look. Mine is a cynical outlook on life. Usually, if something is too good to be true, it is. Not so with Pixar. They have consistently employed the smartest filmmaking techniques into their projects, never faltering in their mission, to make movies for everyone. Toy Story 3 builds upon that legacy. This is a wonderful film! It's become par for the course with these guys. I really need to stop doubting them!


  1. I can't wait to see Mr Pricklepants, Ken and the peas in this one :)

    Sounds like a band name...

  2. I can't wait to see Mr Pricklepants, Ken and the peas in this one :)

    Sounds like a band name...