Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

Pixar may have found its masterpiece with "Toy Story 3," which excellently caps off the only series in the production company's repertoire, not flawlessly but gloriously. Most of their films have tried to create a "galvanizing emotional impact" (as they say), but Lee Unkrich's work has finally done so. I had a much different experience last year with "Up," where I walked out of the theater annoyed, my heart's target being far missed (save during the "prologue"). There an emotional showcase had not been set up well, at least to me (although I know others who have gotten a lot of tears out of that film). Here, like a friend said, it is done enough to actually get me (or him for that matter) to "almost cry," very, very close. As that friend said, for a person who doesn't outwardly display (as with that friend or I), that is sensational. I truly staggered out of the theater.

Like other people I know, I haven't exactly memorized the series, although I can recover bits and pieces from earlier viewings. The People magazine critic and my friend seem to agree that this film trumps the other ones, which is probably true. As a poster on IMDb titled their review, "the gang's all here," that's most definitely true. In the exceptional opening, Unkrich places the characters in an absurd scenario, which happily is what you will intuit it is. I'll skip past it like other critics have done with certain parts of the film, and instead go into the real plot and setup. The toys are in the chest, and apparently, while "living" their own "lives" (which I'll discuss later), they haven't been conventionally "played with" in a long while. They even pathetically have to make Operation Playtime, which involves calling Andy's cellphone, etc., in order to try to get his attention. As the trailers have touted, Andy is going into his freshman year of college and, as expected, has moved on to other things (like the computer) and is expected to renounce his toys. As opposed to what his sister Molly does, in donating them to Sunnyside Day Care, he intends to put them in his attic. But a series of Toy-Story-typical contrivances (speaking of these, one later in the film is a little annoying) lead the toys to believe he wants them thrown out, and they happily escape off to the Sunnyside container in the car, except for Woody, who believes that they should remain loyal to him (to preserve his innocence, perhaps?).

They all end up going to the day care, though, and they meet the extravagant cast of toy characters, which are so well-incorporated that I was willing to drop my grumps about Pixar being "smart-alecky" and willing to label the company as my friend did, which was "witty." Of course it's old news to say how Pixar has done the whole "inventive" thing, but it enchants nonetheless here. The day care is juxtaposed with new life/old life, daycare/nursing home symbolism, which is perhaps a little obvious, but I still think it's pretty well done. Nursing home is a little odd for toys, though, as they seem to have eternal life as they can change into an inanimate object at will and withstand everything except for disintegrating fires and things that would destroy their vestige. It really refers to their "play life," as the toys here have reached the end of their tenure with their owners, who of course are human beings who have a finite lifespan.

They are welcomed with open arms by Lotso-Huggin'-Bear, who seems a very nice guy, but is in actuality very wounded and extremely corrupt. Think of him as a Lou Ford type. He runs the place in more capacity than you would think, along with his assistants, Big Baby and Ken. The toys are very receptive to this good care, except for Woody, who really thinks that he should go back to Andy. The others have no idea what they're in for. The film's climax involves the introduction of a "prison break" (as Jessie and just about everyone else would call it a "prison") narrative, one that is rather common to the Pixar oeuvre, but which is done to massive effect in this one. Although it does have the usual "conventions" of a type of picture like this one, I guess those are rather "obligatory" (like Ebert said of "I Love You, Man") , and they aren't really to be nitpicked. Because look: to paraphrase Lisa Schwarzbaum's critique of "Prince of Persia," this is what a Pixar film is. And for a small kid, this sort of thing would take the cake. As AspergianSarah reminded me when I was trashing "Up," these films are for kids, as well as the adults. I shouldn't forget that.

This film is consistently amusing, with a script that seems to be the frontrunner for the Original Screenplay award at the Academy Awards as of yet. EW pointed out that Michael Arndt's joining the writing crew made some difference, and I'm sure it had, what with the sometimes (as EW said) "on-the-mark one-liners." And the voiceover work is great as well, from everyone, especially, as my friend said, the "Potato Heads" (Don Rickles and the excellent Estelle Harris) who, as my friend said, have some "body part innovations" (you'll see what I mean, as Pixar employs an extraordinary plot device that seems at first like a cheesy or bizarre thing and also something that reminds me somewhat of "Coraline"). We realize by the ending that while all the other toys have the crazy and funny innovations, the toys at the core of this film, especially the old-fashioned Woody, have wonder and heart as their gifts. I feel like a saccharine fool writing that, but there you go. A

What a magical moviegoing weekend this was, with three of the year's best films.


Stephanie said...

Wow! You are a discerning reviewer who rarely awards 'A's -- now I'm more excited than ever to see this movie. :-) I loved your review, especially the first paragraph. My hubby said the same thing -- that this movie was very emotional for him.

Unlike you, I really liked Up, but I'm hopeful that this one will be even better.

Nick Duval said...

Thank you so much for the compliments and comments! It is very emotional and if you liked "Up" and were moved by it, this is that emotion taken to the next level (or at least the prologue's emotion).