Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Here's that Toy Story 3 review I promised!

No Country for Old Toys
Toy Story 3 and the afterlife of playthings
Ryan Syrek

If the theology behind the Toy Story series is correct, we’re evil bastards, all of us. After a lifetime spent in servitude to their increasingly dispassionate and demanding masters, we sentence these sentient creations who want only to create joy and love to spend eternity in a dark attic or to find oblivion in an incinerator. Thanks for the memories, once beloved creatures of our youth; hope you enjoy cardboard purgatory or trash hell!

Pixar, the only Michelangelo in a world populated by finger-painting computer animation studios, often infuses sophisticated, classically childlike fare with heady intellect. With Toy Story 3, screenwriters John Lasseter, Michael Arndt and Andrew Stanton and writer/director Lee Unkrich weave obligatory themes of enduring friendship with contemplations on life’s purpose, explorations of the molting experienced in young adulthood and, you know, some fun stuff.

In an interesting meta-twist facilitated by the decade between the second and third installments, those who saw the first film in theaters as toddlers are now somewhere in their late teens and 20s and are just as ready to relegate Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Woody (Tom Hanks) to their mental attic as their fictional owner Andy (John Morris) is. Wisely realizing college opportunities for young men are limited by ample toy collections, Andy marks only Woody for higher learning and the rest for the boxed limbo of storage.

Ever the escapists, the cavalcade of kiddie creatures work their way into a daycare facility that seemingly offers an endless fix for the toys’ addiction to playtime. Welcomed by an aged, plush teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) and his right-hand doll, Barbie’s mate Ken (Michael Keaton), the gang’s happiness quickly morphs into yet another Rube Goldberg-esque series of escape attempts. It all culminates in a harrowing moment that sees the characters quite explicitly come to grips with their own seemingly inevitable demise…so there’s that.

The high-wire act of melding philosophical reflections with goofy, slapstick action is made all the more difficult because the insertion of 3D is particularly gimmicky this time out. Whereas with Pixar’s Up, the perspective alteration felt organic and warranted, here it feels as cheap and extraneous as the multiple “Ken is effeminant” jokes. Looks like it’s never too young to teach kids that boys who do girl things should be mercilessly ridiculed. Thankfully, the inclusive “we’re all in this together” motif far outweighs the light-but-stupid overreliance on ascot jokes.

Where the funny really comes from is elaborately conceived adventure sequences and clever twists on familiar characters. From Buzz being switched to SAP mode to Woody forced to discuss improvisational acting talents with a stuffed porcupine who is trying to really sell a tea party, the key is humor that seamlessly works on two levels. If nothing else, Toy Story 3 should be hailed as a conquering hero for being the first animated feature to wholly forgo fart jokes.

Although the series could have stopped after the first or second effort without feeling incomplete, the end of the third installment feels definitive. Its message about relegating those trapped fragments of youth to memory seems to speak directly to the very audiences who elevated The Karate Kid remake to a box office win last week. Although gobs of money may convince them otherwise, Pixar seems ready to gracefully move on from the franchise that spawned them, and audiences will likely happily release their grip as well. As for the toys themselves, they apparently get to spend the remainder of their immortal lives longing for returned love or the sweet release of death. Have fun thinking about that one, kids!

Grade = A-

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