Tuesday, June 22, 2010



The makers of TOY STORY 3 not only manage to bring the entire franchise around the corner with a boy who is too old for his toys but also to breathe even more fresh air into the series. By the third installment, a film in a series is usually so watered down and weak that it is a waste of time, but TOY STORY 3 handles its business as if all of the novel ideas that were percolating when the first movie was made never stopped bubbling over. The film doesn’t miss. There is no dragtime; there are no missteps. In a season full of nonstop cinematic blunders and outright moving picture failures, TOY STORY 3 stands above all and gives movie fans a reason to see a film in the theater rather than waiting for the DVD release.

The plot is simple enough. Andy is moving on to college, and he is cleaning out his room. The toys that made this ensemble piece series what it is are getting cut loose. Woody (Tom Hanks) is the only toy that makes it into the “college” box. The rest are all fair game for some form of separation anxiety. In short, the toys wind out in a day care, and on the surface, everything seems happy and loving. But beneath the utopian fa├žade, something really ugly is brewing.

TOY STORY 3 manages to slip in some serious adult concepts and cloak them well with enough humor, whimsy, and fantastic CGI to make the end product feel relatively light. There is even a moment of such angst in the face of a force not dissimilar to DANTE’S INFERNO that completely humanizes every one of these talking playthings. Underneath all of the fun and adventure are messages about commitment, self-sacrifice, generosity, and forgiveness.

What is that ugliness brewing under the surface at Sunnyside Day Care? It is complicated and heavy with spoilers. Just keep an eye out for any character that looks like it escaped from Sid’s workbench in the original TOY STORY. That is the only hint that you need.

The adventure that Woody and crew go on is a hilarious one. Sarge and his bag of green army men are still around, and Sarge is still voiced by R. Lee Ermey, the ultimate typecast drill sergeant in the actor’s guild. Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) steps up his game this time out and fully one-ups his “Look, I’m a Picasso!” move. The aliens from the claw machine are back and still relevant. So is Rex (Wallace Shawn), the dim-witted Tyrannosaur who has the personality of a much cuddlier creature. Even the Toyota truck from Pizza Planet makes a cameo.

The introduction of several new characters, including the Fisher-Price phone that we have all seen with its clown-cherub face named Chatter (Teddy Newton) are all welcome. Even Ken (Michael Keaton) of Barbie fame is a welcome meterosexual addition to the group.

What really holds this film together is the fact that Andy’s toys, from Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) to the Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), are an actual, working team. The previous two installations of TOY STORY have demonstrated this as well, and this current chapter in their plastic lives showcases it even further.

Can those geniuses at Pixar do no wrong? All of the Disney/Pixar films have been fantastic. Anytime I hear someone speak up about a Disney/Pixar film that they thought was weak (like CARS or FINDING NEMO) I can usually count at least five voices vehemently coming to the film’s defense. Pixar understands storytelling on the bigscreen. They also have a knack for delivering the kind of moral that would make grandma proud. With brash, rude CGI films like the SHREK or ICE AGE series out there making parents wince with their candid scatological buffoonery, it makes a film like TOY STORY 3 stand that much taller. Sight gags, pop culture references, and old-fashioned comic timing make TOY STORY 3 the kind of G-rated film that won’t have adults in the audience snoring, groaning, or looking at their cellphone clock.

Is there anything bad to be said about this film? There is a lame one-liner from Hamm (John Ratzenberger) that falls so flat that the audience might not catch it. However, that line is delivered after the credits are rolling at the end. Lee Unkrich who has put in co-directing time with Pixar/Disney in the past (TOY STORY 2, MONSTERS INC, FINDING NEMO) sure has earned the full director’s chair this time around. At a time when it is a complete chore to go to the multiplex and suffer through Hollywood’s most disappointing streak of mediocrity yet, TOY STORY 3 throws down and sets a standard. It presents a world of toys with consciousness as if this is the incontrovertible truth. It is the same standard that was set in TOY STORY 1. I just wish more movie-makers would strive for it.

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