Before I profess my love for this wonderful film, I should admit, I was rather cynical about this sequel. Greenlit during the time it looked like Disney and Pixar might part ways, Disney planned on going ahead with Toy Story 3 with or without Pixar’s help. And why shouldn’t they? It’d be like printing money. A movie about toys is just laden with merchandising opportunities.
On top of that, I’m of the mind that Toy Story 2 is even better than the original. And seeing as that film dealt with what becomes of a toy when its owner moves on, what new ground could this installment possibly cover?
In the end, the answer is…not much. On the toy front, things are much the same as they were in part two: Andy is older. His toys are neglected. Between garage sales, giveaways and garbage dumps, the end of the line is approaching. This time around, instead of being scooped up by a collector, Andy’s toys find themselves in the process of being donated to a daycare center.
The situation may be different, but the feelings are largely the same. “This is exactly what happened with Emily!” cries cowgirl Jessie. I nod. That it is. But something has changed here. Perhaps not with Woody and the gang, but with the people. Andy, no longer just the kid owner of the titular toys, is more of a character in this film than ever before. So while this is a movie about the toys and their journey, it’s more so a film about growing up and letting go of childhood. And in that way, it’s a very sad emotional film. Sad isn’t the right word. I’m not sure what is.
Something about Woody, Buzz and the lot of them has changed too, and it has nothing to do with a difference in character. Enough time has passed between the original and this second sequel that our store-bought heroes have become what before they could only represent: classic toys. I was eight years old when the original hit theatres, though I didn’t see it until it came out on VHS the following December. (Remember when it took movies a YEAR to come out on video?) I may not have been clamoring for a Buzz Lightyear of my very own that Christmas, but my four year old brother went nuts for it. There is a moment early in the film where we are shown an old family video of Andy playing with his toys as a child. He’s brimming with enthusiasm, dressed up in a Buzz Lightyear costume with inflatable wings.
I don’t know why this struck such a deep chord with me. I mean, I know why it hit close to home — my little brother had that exact costume. He had that exact toy. And he too played with them much like Andy is shown to. But why did it resonate with me so much?
I suppose it’s because it seems so far away now. Like Andy, Kevin too is now preparing to head off to college in the fall. I am not at home now, but I know exactly where that costume is. It’s sitting inside a treasure chest in my laundry room, buried under countless other costumes, none of which have seen the light of day in years.
Many of those costumes are my own, from when I was a similar age. Fittingly, one is even a cowboy outfit, complete with what I can only describe as “horse pants” (like this, only less terrifying). I still have memories of playing in those costumes, of playing with toys of my own. But they’re further still. Some moments I can remember clearly — particularly playtime tragedies, like if I flung a favourite toy across the room in the heat of battle and it broke into a hundred pieces when it hit the ground. But most of them have faded — gone completely, or getting murkier every day.
Adding another layer to my nostalgia kick, I was struck by the fact that the theatre in Kelowna where I saw this film is the same theatre I was taken to as a child to see the first big-screen movie of my life. That was more than 18 years ago now. Beauty and the Beast. Disney again. It’s all connected.
This has turned into more of a personal essay than a review, but that’s just the kind of movie this is. I can’t explain what makes the film so good by doing a proper review. If I were to break it down honestly, it’s far from perfect. Woody (Tom Hanks) carries the film, as Buzz (Tim Allen) is largely reduced to out-of-character shenanigans. They are funny, but they also feel insincere for what might be the last hurrah for these characters.
In many ways it’s an incredibly bleak film, full of dark situations and despicably evil villains. A scene in the final act where our heroes join hands is one of the most surprisingly mature and poignant moments Pixar has yet shown us.
But it’s also an incredibly funny film. A few new characters provide the bulk of the laughs, most notably Ken (Michael “I’m Batman” Keaton). Yes, that Ken. While the humour rarely rises above the easy “man, Ken is so gay” jokes, they are pulled off so hilariously that it’s tough to complain. Even the way he moves, with his stiff doll appendages, is chuckle-worthy.
Before sitting down to plot out the story, Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter watched a number of franchise #3s, in search of a winning formula they could emulate. They claim not to have found one, as very few second sequels are successful, but I see shades of Return of the Jedi in the climactic moments. It wouldn’t be the first time Pixar has borrowed from RotJ, as The Incredibles is loaded with winks to it. So while that isn’t entirely surprising, this is: I also see a lot of Ocean’s 13 in this film.
In many ways this is a gang heist film, even if our heroes are stealing themselves. Call it a prison break if you will, but each member of the team brings their own unique skill required to get the job done. Adding to this dynamic is more hilarity from a new and unlikely source: the Chatter Telephone.
I saw the film in 3-D, but that’s really not required. The extra dimension adds next to nothing to this film, outside of a few thrills during a couple action sequences. The 3-D in Up was quite subtle and added depth to the picture, but it’s so subtle in Toy Story 3 it may as well not even be there. Not that this is something to complain about, I’m just saying — it may be better to skip the unnecessary headache and see it flat.
I should stop before I spoil too much. Just let me say this: the humour is predictable, but very funny. The villain is not very far removed from #2’s Stinky Pete, but the story hits a deeper emotional note that #2 merely touched the surface of. Like I said, I can’t explain why the film is so good on its own — it is an affecting piece of work, but it’s the thoughts and memories that it inspires that make it more than it is.
Overall, it’s hard not to have fun with this movie. And hey — behind 3D glasses, no one can see you cry.