Those of you who know me on a personal level will know of my great fondness for the first two Toy Story films. For those of you who don’t, you should know that I hold these films in incredibly high esteem, regarding them as not only two of the finest in the animation genre, but two of the greatest films ever made. Featuring themes regarding loyalty, neglect, courageousness and the importance of friendship, coupled with storylines which combine all the best features of adventure, heart-warming tenderness and ingenious sight gags, ensuring they have an abundance of elements for audiences of all ages to take pleasure in.
Ever since its birth back in 1986 and the release of their first feature length animation in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios has continuously found new ways of enchanting cinemagoers by telling stories involving both interestingly detailed characters and universally acknowledged themes, with each of their new releases becoming the highlight of any yearly cinematic line-up. Rivalling a certain percentage of live action cinema with its overwhelming charm and flawless characterisation, Toy Story and its sequel set the benchmark for each and every subsequent animated movie, be it crafted by Pixar, DreamWorks or Blue Sky etc. Compare Monsters, Inc.’s effortless originality, The Incredibles’ exhilarating narrative and Wall-E’s subtext concerning the state of worldwide waste management, and you get some idea of Pixar’s resounding brilliance.
Competing animation studios have continuously tried and failed to match the genius storytelling found with Pixar, in particular DreamWorks, who are responsible for the dreadfully pop-culture laden Shark Tale and the dwindling Shrek franchise, whose following three sequels have failed to match the quality of its opening instalment. The studios’ possible only saving grace came in the form of this year’s How to Train Your Dragon, a film which combined a charismatic narrative with top-notch animation and was also responsible for proving that 3D isn’t its usually gimmick-ridden form when used carefully in an animated feature to compliment the story.
This year sees the third instalment in the Toy Story canon coming into fruition, and it is a release I (and many others) have been waiting for ever since Toy Story 2 wowed audiences back in 1999, proving that sometimes a second film can be better than the groundbreaking original. Who could forget the masterful way Pixar managed to get into the mindset of these usually inanimate objects, featuring laugh out loud jokes underscored by an understandably humane streak. Remember the poignancy of Buzz’s realisation that he is just a toy? Or Jessie the cowgirl lamenting her harshly inevitable abandonment (cut beautifully to Sarah McLachlan’s ‘When She Loved Me’)? Those scenes have stuck in the collective minds of cinemagoers, and were responsible for the somewhat shameful admittance of sobbing to a (predominantly) kids film.
It has taken me quite a while and multiple viewings (I’ve seen it four times now; twice in 2D, once in 3D and another in IMAX 3D) to render my thoughts and emotions to physically sit down and put into my words my review of Toy Story 3. This is partly due to the amount of time it takes to register my wonderment with any of the latest films from Pixar, but I think the real reason is that I did not want to come to terms with the realities left by the films conclusion; that this is potentially the final journey for these beloved characters on the big screen. It is with a twinge of sadness but undeniable joy that I get to see a new adventure for Woody, Buzz and the gang, and I will now review the film.
Toy Story 3
(Lee Unkrich, 2010, UK)
Following eleven years of enthusiastic hope and excitable waiting, Pixar have finally unveiled the third (and quite possibly final) chapter in their Toy Story trilogy, Toy Story 3, and what a satisfyingly magnificent second sequel it is. Bypassing the well-known convention of the third in a trilogy usually being the weakest, the expert animators have outdone themselves yet again, creating both a nostalgic romp for these beloved characters and an emotionally wrought, satisfying conclusion, bringing the story authentically full circle.
After opening with a rousing Western sequence exploring the depths of Andy’s imagination (and Pixar’s endless creativity), Toy Story 3 settles into the familiar territory of which audiences have become so comfortable, although times have now changed. Shifting several years from the setting of Toy Story 2, Andy is now seventeen and on the cusp of leaving for college, packing up his room and facing the decision of separating his possessions between trash, storage or donation. What makes the decisions ever more difficult is the presence of his much loved but increasingly neglected toys, who now spend their days cooped up in a dank trunk acting out new yet flawed ways to grab their owners’ sullied attention once more. Returning again are the courageous Woody (Hanks), heroic Buzz Lightyear (Allen), peppy cowgirl Jessie (Cusack), neurotic dinosaur Rex (Shawn), sarcastic piggybank Hamm (Ratzenberger), loyal Slinky dog (Blake Clark) and the wise-cracking Mr. Potato Head (Rickles) along with his boisterous wife Mrs. Potato Head, voiced by Seinfeld regular Estelle Harris. Also reappearing are the devoted alien troika and Jessie’s dependably mute pal Bullseye the horse. Mourning the loss of absent old friends Wheezy and Bo Peep, the gang all labour under the dour news of Andy’s impending departure and their predestined transfer to the attic, something Woody tries his very best to reassure them isn’t all bad.
Following a misinterpretation from Andy’s mum (what’s a Toy Story film without a few plot contrivances?), the toys are transported to ‘Sunnyside Daycare’, where they are kindly greeted by a multitude of merrily abandoned and bequeathed toys, led by Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (a.k.a Lotso, voiced by Beatty), a warm yet deceptive plush who happens to smell like strawberries. Sunnyside promises a happy new home where toys are never neglected by the multitude of youngsters who play with them, two facts which reassure Andy’s toys who wrongly believe they were intentionally thrown away.
After a raucous play session with the innocently violent children of the ‘Caterpillar room’ (“They are not age-appropriate”, Buzz bemoans), Sunnyside’s idyllic demeanour begins to fade away to reveal a malevolent hidden agenda. The gang discover the daycare is nothing more than a totalitarian-esque detainment fortress, strictly governed by an unlikely ruler and his varied band of minions, who forbid anyone from leaving. Once you’re in, there is no way out. Woody, Buzz et al must find a way to break free and find their way home to Andy, who’s departure is drawing ever nearer, making way for a thrilling escape plan and an abundance of memorable new characters.
Riding high after fifteen years (and ten films) of high quality animation and unparalleled, imaginative storytelling, Pixar have yet again delivered on all fronts, rewarding mature audiences with a melancholic romp and appealing to newer audiences who are only discovering this world for the first time. It is relieving (but not exactly surprising) to know that Toy Story 3 is another crowning achievement for the animation studio, which has enjoyed unbridled success since the original Toy Story in 1995 up to the recent masterpieces that were Wall-E and Up. Even if Cars wasn’t critically victorious, it was still miles better than the competition and has continued to win over a wide audience as far as merchandising is concerned. Its success has also accumulated a sequel (due in 2011), so that’s some idea of the fondness for these films audiences have, both young and old.
Toy Story 3 features perhaps the studio’s finest animation to date, with realism and beautifully rendered attention to detail that seeps from each and every slaved over frame. The sublime visuals are matched only by Pixar’s acute attention to detail and feint referencing, attributes which they are renowned for expressing and require numerous viewings just to take it all in. The film also contains the best use of 3D I have seen in that it is unobtrusive and used very sparingly, used only to enhance the tiny details and give a sense of depth to the film, without the need for objects to fly at you from the screen. Toy Story 3 cannot be accused of relying on the gimmicks and tedious spectacle of 3D technology, which is an admirable feat considering its overuse in modern day cinema. The film is also released in 2D, which loses none of the thrills that 3D nominally adds to the action sequences.
As marvellous as the animation and story is, it is the characters that really makes Toy Story 3 come alive. Though the new cast of toys are impressive (especially the well groomed and accessory-heavy Ken, who is voiced with relish by Michael Keaton) and it’s always good to meet new characters, it is the much-loved familiar ones who steal the show yet again, ensuring an emotional climax which will pull at the heartstrings of those who have grown old with them whilst leaving you with a glorified sense of contentment. Director Lee Unkrich expertly mixes a rousing, all-action prison break-influenced plot with moments of heart-stopping beauty and poignant sentiment, including one momentous sequence which will leave even the hardest viewer wiping away the tears.
Strong vocal support comes in the form of Timothy Dalton, Bonnie Hunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Garlin and Kristen Schaal, who all play a variety of toys on either side of the daycare boundaries and are all as memorable as the primary protagonists. The screenplay is written by Michael Arndt, the sculptor behind the brilliant Little Miss Sunshine, and Toy Story 3 is all the better for it, cramming in as much ingenious laughs and enjoyable set pieces as possible. Arndt clearly knows the characters, and that greatly benefits the overall story.
It is hard finding any downsides to an animated film which deals with a multitude of themes, ranging from camaraderie, abandonment, the uncontrollability of growing old, letting go of the past and looking to the future, with rich, detailed characters and a strong emotional core. To me, Toy Story 3 is a flawless piece of cinema, one of (if not the) finest animated films ever made and a strong contender for the best film of 2010. Pixar have set the benchmark incredibly high, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here with their upcoming selection of sequels. For 103 minutes, they have allowed me to revisit my childhood, to revel in nostalgia and imagination, revisiting the joys I felt with the original two films throughout my childhood whilst capping off possibly the finest film trilogy ever made. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Cars, 2006. [Film] Directed by John Lasseter, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
How to Train Your Dragon, 2010. [Film] Directed by Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, USA: Dreamworks Animation.
The Incredibles, 2004. [Film] Directed by Brad Bird, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
Little Miss Sunshine, 2006. [Film] Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Monsters, Inc., 2001. [Film] Directed by Pete Docter, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
Shark Tale, 2004. [Film] Directed by Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman, USA: Dreamworks Animation.
Shrek, 2001. [Film] Directed by Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, USA: Dreamworks Animation.
Toy Story, 1995. [Film] Directed by John Lasseter, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
Toy Story 2, 1999. [Film] Directed by John Lasseter, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
Toy Story 3, 2010. [Film] Directed by Lee Unkrich, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
UP, 2009. [Film] Directed by Pete Docter, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
Wall-E, 2008. [Film] Directed by Andrew Stanton, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.