Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Toy Story 3

Movie trilogies. There never really has been a great one. It's rare enough to get a good sequel. OK, yeah, you got your Star Wars fans, but Return of the Jedi? Let's just say "Ewoks" and leave it at that. Lord of the Rings? I'd argue against it on two fronts: First, it sucked. Second, it's really just one really long movie. The Frankenstein movies come close, but the third entry is pretty weak.

Are there any other contenders? Rocky II was adequate, and Rocky III turned the franchise into a cartoon. The less said about Godfather III the better. Alien 3 is an epic tragedy of filmmaking (oh, what might have been!). Terminator 3 was...well, I didn't see it, but it wasn't regarded as a classic by anyone.

Let's face it: As rare as it is to get one great movie, it's vanishingly rare to get two great movies in a row. A trilogy seems nigh impossible.

Well, until now.

The only question about Toy Story 3? Is it the best of the three movies? It's possibly as funny as the first one (the funniest), and it has all the heart of the second one, without the heart-rending tragedy (I hate you, Randy Newman).

Continuing a trend that started with The Incredibles, this movie has at least as much to appeal for adults. What's more, the a lot of the kids who grew up with Toy Story are now in or on their way to college, just like Andy is in this movie. (One of the interns at the office talked about going to see it with all his friends, who would've been about 5 in 1995.)

The movie opens with the opening play scene of Toy Story 1 combined with the closing play scene of Toy Story 2, only instead of listening to Andy narrate the action, they actually render it, rather spectacularly.

After that, the story picks up about a decade after Toy Story 2 and the toys have met the fate that was the plot point of Toy Story 2. Andy is about to go off to college, and while the toys are still around (most of them—Bo Peep is conspicuously absent).

The question is, what to do with his toys? Attic? Or donation?

Andy sets them aside for the attic, but through a series of unfortunate events, mom donates them to a local pre-school. Woody wants to get back to Andy, while the other toys are enjoying the prospect of being played with, something that Andy hasn't done for years. It soon turns out, however, that a cadre of bullying toys run the place and decide which toys go in which room—with one room being filled with brutal pre-schoolers.

On a practical, philosophical level, the problem with the Toy Story movies is that they've always encouraged children to cling to their toys. (And, really, in Toy Story 1, Sid is really the creative one, however villainous.) The Boy and The Flower both refused to ever throw away/give/sell any toy after Sarah MacLachlan ripped their hearts out.

And dramatically, this creates a difficult problem, set up by the first movie: Andy is a good kid, based in large part in how he plays with his toys. But obviously they can't have a kid going to college still playing with dolls. (Otherwise you end up with Michael Richards circa 1980. Actually, I sort of wonder if Michael Richards and Marydith Burrell weren't the inspiration for Sid and his sister.)

I don't want to give anything away, but let me say that I thought at one point that Pixar had decided to end the series by destroying all the toys. And I thought that both times I saw the movie.

But that's pretty typical for Pixar: They do suspense well. And there's plenty of action, humor, drama—and if you have a kid who's about college-age, you'll probably spend the last five minutes of the movie crying.

And, of course, it's technically flawless. Beautifully rendered to make the dolls' features seem both expressive and plastic. (We don't need plastic surgery, we need CGI.) Music by Randy Newman (again) though without the mid-movie song. There really wasn't time for it.

The voices are all back: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Jodi Benson, R. Lee Ermey as Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Hamm, Barbie and Sarge. 76-year-old Estelle Harris and 84-year-old Don Rickles return as Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Laurie Metcalf is back as Andy's mom, and even John Morris—who hasn't acted since 1999's Toy Story 2—is back as grown-up Andy.

Annie Potts is missing, as Bo Peep, and Blake Clark fills in for the late Jim Varney as Slinky.

Joining the cast are Pixar favorites Bonnie Hunt as Dolly, gravelly-voiced animator Bud Luckey as Chuckles the Clown, Richard Kind as the Bookworm, Jeff Garlin as Buttercup and Michael Keaton as Ken. Newcomers include Whoopi Goldberg as a menacing octopus, and Timothy Dalton in a hilarious turn as Mr. Pricklepants.

Ned Beatty turns in a great performance as Lotso, the CareBear-esque lord of the day care center.

It will doubtless win the Oscar for animated feature, but there's going to have to be some real quality put out by Hollywood to beat this in any way. Here's a film that ends a beloved story in a satisfying way, while introducing new characters, and still coming in at around 90 minutes. (Yeah, the official running time is 1:40, but half of that is end credits.)

Interestingly, the previous Pixar tradition of having mid-credit scenes is revived here, though not in outtakes form, as seen in the '90s movies. I wonder if that's not because they didn't want to break the fourth wall.

Yeah, everyone loved it: The Old Man, The Flower, The Barb and The Boy. And me? Well, I said I'd seen it twice.

So far.

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