Day: June 24, 2010

Third Time’s a Charm: Review for Toy Story 3

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15 years after the initial release of Pixar’s first animated film Toy Story, Pixar has finally released a second sequel to the beloved series. Openly aimed at the audience that grew up with the previous two films, Toy Story 3 blends nuanced storytelling, emotional wallops, and amazing visuals. This is probably Pixar’s strongest film since WALL-E and Finding Nemo and it proves as a worthy successor to Toy Story and Toy Story 2.

Andy, the owner of the beloved toys, has grown up with us. He’s 17 now and he‘s off to college, having neglected his toys for the past several years. Begging for attention, Woody and the gang have set up several various plans to get him to play with them again. But to no avail. The toys accidentally get donated to a daycare center, Sunnyside, a seemingly toy Utopia run by a large and jovial purple bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty). Lotso is not all hugs and happiness; he’s an evil dictator. It is up to Woody and the gang to escape from

The film has some of the best storytelling of any movie in the past 15 years. Michael Arndt, who also was nominated for an Academy Award for Little Miss Sunshine, wrote the screenplay, clearly aiming for the kids, or now teenagers, who grew up watching the previous films. Arndt is a strong storyteller, adding humor when needed, appealing to both adults and children (but not vulgar humor, which companies like DreamWorks are a bit notorious for), and true sadness and emotion. The elements in the film are very reminiscent to other styles. When Chuckles the Clown recounts the past of Lotso, he brings us and draws us into a vivid and imaginative flashback origin story, similar to scenes in film noir, like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Chatter Telephone acts like both a phone booth in a noir and as the voice over the line, as he helps Woody with security precautions. The voice, high, raspy, and sounding suspicious is extremely memorable and sounds like those secret agents or those unofficial allies from movies like Casablanca. And just like in a noir film, he gets beat up and tortured. Some of the angles and camera work within the film is also reminiscent of classic romance films.

The emotion is very potent within the film, as each scene rings true and special. Unlike most kiddie films, where they try to take every single opportunity to make you weep (unsuccessfully for the most part), Toy Story 3 very strategically places key emotional plot points within the film. So strategically and well done, the film has made several audiences members weep, including myself. You pause for a moment and think, AM I crying over toys? Yes, you are. These characters have grown to mean a lot to their audience and it’s not bad that one would cry during the film. Very much like another of my Pixar favorites, WALL-E, the fantastic emotion often comes in the facial expressions of the characters. While I’m not really a fan of Randy Newman’s music, he has transcended the art of scoring into a film and has added the extra emotion to each scene with the great score.

Speaking of great animation, it’s been 15 years since the first Toy Story! This one looks fantastic. It’s been a long time and the animation technique and detail has progressed almost exponentially in comparison. Every seam in Woody’s denim pants and every piece of fur in Lotso’s body is perfectly visible. The characters are also significantly more flexible than before, now able to do the tango! (Stay for the end credits for that).  The film looks majestic in every way.

The introduction of new characters is really great. Barbie finds her Ken, and the two offer some of the funniest moments in the film Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton, is a vain, plastic, self indulgent henchman of Lotso, but falls immediately for Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson, the speaking and singing voice of The Little Mermaid). Both designed very much like the figures in real life, their movements are stiff, and rightly so. The articulation is perfect, in the way that their joints give very little articulation by themselves, but the personalities that the voices lend give the characters whole new animation. Lotso is the big patriarchal leader of Sunnyside, pulling strings when need be and positively evil. Wronged in the past, he takes his anger out by becoming a power hungry freak. Bonnie is a human little girl who finds Woody and she’s like a girl version of Andy; lovable, kind, and a welcome addition, She takes care of her toys and plays with them. That is what all the toys wanted. Fretful that Andy doesn’t love them anymore, Bonnie is just what they needed.

Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are back and they sound great as usual. Delivering lines just as perfectly as ever, the two make Woody and Buzz more real than we could ever ask. They’ve become iconic in their own way and it’s a great welcome back and a fond farewell to the two leads.

The film, though, rated G, and though aimed at the nostalgic group, was extremely dark. Filled with suspense and action throughout, the storyline was just too dark for 3 – 5 year olds. That, with the sad moments, would make younger kids bawl, undoubtedly. So, if you have any really young kids, I don’t recommend the film to you. However, if you kids have 8 and up, then that should be fine.

The film is a wonder of storytelling and animation. Emotionally sound and well made, Pixar proves that it is once again at the top of their game. This is one of Pixar’s best films and it’s one of the best films period to come out this year. The style and the characters grew up with us, so the nostalgia is well placed. This is an excellent film. I had very high expectations walking into the film, and after it driving me to tears three times, the film surpassed my expectations…to infinity and beyond!

Grade: A+