Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Toy Story 3: A Toy Story For The Next Generation Is Largely Pointless.

The Good: Decent themes, Good animation
The Bad: It’s completely been done before.
The Basics: A very mediocre installment, Toy Story 3 is thematically heavy for young adults before becoming a ridiculous children’s movie.

I am always fascinated by what gets green-lit for a sequel and what brings actors back to a project. There have been a slew of times when I have heard actors say they are only returning to a franchise because the script is fresh and new only to watch the film and discover that it is essentially a recast of a prior installment of the work. I was late to seeing the first Toy Story, largely because I didn’t care that the animation was done by computers and it looked like a pretty basic children’s movie to me. But with the advent of Toy Story 3, I am not sure any of the actors can honestly even pretend that they were returning for anything other than to have work and to cash a paycheck. Michael Arndt’s script is so formulaically close to that of the original Toy Story that those looking for something new are likely to just be largely disappointed. I’ve found this to be true of many Disney movies of late, though The Little Mermaid still holds up.

Toy Story 3 is in some ways a conundrum. It is a children’s movie for young adults, being marketed to children. Unlike Toy Story, which had themes like “children who abuse toys tend to be abusive children” and “making new friends does not mean getting rid of old ones,” Toy Story 3 wants to speak to older children making the transition to adulthood, but then degenerates into a children’s movie which follows much of the same plot and even character points as the first Toy Story.

Andy, the child whose toys are very active when he is not around, is now seventeen years old and heading off to college. Unfortunately for the toys, including Andy's beloved Woody toy, Andy’s mother takes them out and they end up on the curb. Through Jessie and Buzz's fast thinking, they are donated to Sunnyside Day Care, with Woody. There, the toys begin to make new friends and they get the feeling life will not be so bad without Andy. Unfortunately for them, their seemingly idyllic world is turned upside down when recess ends and the children of the daycare come out and mangle most of the toys.

Knowing Woody’s importance to Andy, Woody makes a break for it. After a stint at a little girl's house, Woody learns the horrible truth about Sunnyside. Unwilling to leave his friends in dire circumstances, Woody decides to rescue all of the toys, including Buzz Lightyear – who has been reset to his original personality and then stuck on Spanish settings – and the jailbreak for survival begins!

The thematic problems would seem to indicate that Toy Story 3 was primarily produced for one of two audiences: a new generation of children or the generation who grew up on Toy Story who is now of an age when they are getting rid of their toys. For the former, there’s always Toy Story which at least has originality and a sense of important messages to children that still stands the test of time. In other words, new children don’t need a new movie, they just need to watch Toy Story. By the time the themes in Toy Story 3 become relevant to them, they will be about as old as those who grew up on Toy Story are now. This leaves the other audience. The people who grew up on Toy Story might well enjoy seeing their old friends from the original movies, but beyond that, the message is one that most ought to either have realized by now or will not truly sink in for most audiences. In other words, if they do not already have sentimental attachment to their past and the objects they grew up with, one hardly thinks Toy Story 3 will lead to a slew of conversions to the mindset that the past can be important.

This leaves the viewer with a remarkably blasé film that seems far too much like the first film. The regression of Buzz Lightyear, whose toy gets reset to now have a Latino personality (there are some pretty obvious stereotypes in his behavior once he is reset) seems a forced way to have conflict within the group which is otherwise focused on saving one another. As a result, it is no surprise when Buzz’s character problems are as easily solved and this is certainly unsatisfying to the mature audiences watching Toy Story 3.

This leaves the viewer with Woody to empathize with and here again, the viewer is less likely to be satisfied, especially for fans of the franchise. Woody seems perpetually to forget how to share, especially the affection Andy has for his other toys. So when he has the opportunity to save himself, it once again feels like a plot necessity (and an attempt to get up to a minimum of 90 minutes for the running time, which it exceeds that by a fair amount with the closing credits) to have Woody even consider saving himself over the others. The plot and character developments do not feel organic; they feel forced and audiences who have seen or enjoyed Toy Story are likely to feel like they have just sat through a well-publicized cashgrab.

Why, then, do I ultimately recommend Toy Story 3? First, the talent involved is exceptional and the themes that are in the movie are not bad, they are just presented erratically as part of a movie that doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be an action film for children or a nostalgic tale for young adults. The humor is very basic and very safe for young children with several double entendres in the movie that will pass harmlessly over the heads of young ones. But the deliveries of even the mediocre jokes by talents like Wallace Shawn (Rex), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), and Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head) cannot be denied. They make the mundane sound fresh and their lines frequently work. The addition of Michael Keaton (Ken) to the voice cast is a nice addition. Even Tim Allen does well, though Javier Fernandez Pena deserves a lot of credit for sounding like Allen when Buzz speaks Spanish. Tom Hanks does fine emoting as Woody.

As well, the animation is truly extraordinary. Any clunkiness that the original Toy Story might have had has been eliminated by Toy Story 3 and the movement and lighting are great. The lip synchs are flawless and the movie is sure to be fun in 3-D (the preview I attended was not a 3-D print). Having now seen the film in 3-D, I was entirely unimpressed. Outside a single overhead shot looking down on the nursery at Sunnyside, the 3-D effects are underwhelming. If possible, don't shell out for the 3-D!

On DVD and Blu-Ray, Toy Story 3 is loaded with featurettes and trailers, as well as the short film “Night And Day” which preceded the 3-D version of the film in theaters. Most of the featurettes focus on the animation and the role Toy Story 3 has in expanding the saga (though all involved manage to go without stating that they basically mashed together the plots of the first and second Toy Story to get this film). Fans will be thrilled, but those not bowled over by the primary film will not find the multi-disc versions worth the price.

This is wonderful for children with the bright colors and sense of movement. Older fans will probably be more impressed by Disney’s other summer outing, The Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time.

Ultimately, Toy Story 3 is a fair, children’s movie and a decent summer diversion, even if it is not a timeless classic many fans might have hoped for.

For other animated works, please check out my reviews of:
Despicable Me


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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