Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Fig 1 - Toy Story 3 Poster
Toy Story 3 is the eleventh film by Disney Pixar studios and marks the solo directorial debut of Lee Unkrich, a veteran editor for the company. In the beginning, a now seventeen-year-old Andy (John Morris) is preparing to leave home for college. The remaining toys of the first two installments are nervously deliberating over their future, unsure whether they'll be put into storage, given away or thrown out altogether. Andy ultimately decides to only keep Woody (Tom Hanks) and leave the rest in the attic, though they are mistakenly left by the side of the road in a trash bag. When Woody attempts to save them, they all end up in a donation box and are sent to Sunnyside Daycare which, on the face of things, appears as a utopia where they'll be played with for generations. Upon arrival, they are warmly greeted by Lotso (Ned Beatty), a strawberry-scented bear who makes Sunnyside seem like paradise. However, the toys soon discover that there is a dark hierarchy to the idealistic front of their new surroundings...

I have a constant trepidation in reviewing 'new' Pixar films (which for me is probably anything post-Cars (2006)) as I worry that the lens of my childhood will somehow invoke an instinct to disagree with them. However, I really enjoy Brave (2012) and have found a lot to like in films such as Wall-E (2008) and Up (2009). But I'm sad to say that, in spite of the seven years between now and seeing it in theaters, I still have a lot of mixed feelings about Toy Story 3.

On the one hand, the film does a good job of rounding off the series nicely (although there is another sequel coming, so that's somewhat defunct). The voice-acting is as fresh as ever, with great performances from Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and a plethora of others, including the late great Don Rickles. The visuals have clearly jumped forward since the first film, which gives us an abundance of colour and life to populate what was once a sparingly-produced atmosphere due to technical limitations. However, in the end, what Toy Story 3 does is recycle elements that worked in the previous films and, ultimately, repackages them to capitalise on the nostalgia of it's following. I say this with a heavy heart, as I am a great lover of Toy Story (1995) and it's sequel. But there is just something hollow to this installment that I can't quite seem to grasp.

Fig 2 - Toy Story 3 - Woody and the gang
I had certainly forgotten how much darker this film is comparatively. It begins with a dire situation in which the toys make one last attempt to connect with their owner, failing to do so. Then, feeling neglected, they are sent to Sunnyside which for all of five minutes appears as an Eden for playtime that is proven not to be when the children smash and lick and desecrate everything in sight. From this point on, the toys are either in captivity or escaping the daycare, all of which proves to be incredibly void of 'fun' or even scenarios to derive humour from. All of this culminates in a scene in which the toys accept their own grizzly fate as they head towards an inferno, which must have scarred some younger viewers for sure. There are some lighter scenes in which Woody's new owner's toys are able to introduce themselves and help him get back to Andy, although this does lead me to another point.

There are many characters in this film. Too many characters. A reported 302 characters to be precise. Of course, this number likely accounts for all the daycare children, various adults and 'background' toys involved. However, it is a number indicative of the fact that the film appears to make only plot-developing characters a necessity. For example, Mr. Potato Head is the only one who can fit under a door at one point (admittedly, in pieces which then allow him to possess a tortilla - makes you wonder what else he can take control of?) and then becomes the focus. Then there's the whole 'Barbie/Ken' arc, which is admittedly responsible for a lot of the film's humour. But it appears to be there only to have Ken help Andy's toys in the latter half, leaving many of the other 'bad' toys by the wayside. Other than Ken, I didn't even catch any of Lotso's cronies names. Why would the monkey in the CCTV room even help Lotso? We're never told. Nor are we told whether or not those cameras are even recording, because if they are, the Sunnyside employees must think the place is extremely haunted. No wonder they don't put the toys away at night...

Furthermore, I must add that the soundtrack is noticeably sparse here. It's difficult not to make comparisons when the first film had such an auditory impact. Hell, even Toy Story 2 (1999) had Sarah McLachlan's "When She Loved Me" over Jessie's backstory. What's even more bizarre is that the film won an Oscar for Randy Newman's "We Belong Together", a song which plays out over the end credits and then, as much as I love Newman's work, becomes completely forgotten.

Overall, I think the film works as a perfectly fine send-off for the franchise. Though I do have my reservations, I don't think it's a bad film. However, it certainly feels like a glossier, more expansive repackaging of the first two films that beats you over the head with callbacks and sentimentality. I wasn't sorry to see it go and I'm not sure I'll be happy to see it return.


Fig. 1 Toy Story 3 Poster (2010) From: Toy Story 3 - Directed by: Lee Unkrich

Fig. 2 Toy Story 3 Screenshot (2010) From: Toy Story 3 - Directed by: Lee Unkrich

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