Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Toy Story 3": All the World's a Toybox


directed by Lee Unkrich
voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, others

There was a period in my childhood when I shared my bed every night with six stuffed animals. And beyond those six were at least as many more that I played with regularly during the day, constructing elaborate narratives around their imaginary lives. Like most people, I eventually stopped playing with my stuffed animals—but I never gave them up completely. They took up residence in my bedroom closet, and stayed there even after I left home. My mother occasionally asks me if she can donate them somewhere, and I always say no.

Anyone who’s ever had a similar experience is sure to respond emotionally to “Toy Story 3,” which opens with Andy, beloved owner of our old friends Woody, Buzz Lightyear, et al., packing for college. As he prepares to turn his room over to his little sister, he's faced with deciding what to do with all his old stuff, including his old toys, which he hasn’t played with in years. His mother, as mothers do, gives him three choices: attic, trash, or donation.

Andy makes his choice, but things don’t go exactly as planned. After a series of unfortunate events, Woody and company find themselves at Sunnyside Daycare, where they receive an initially warm welcome from a new cast of toys, including a pink “Lots-o-Hugging” bear that smells like strawberries, a “Big Baby” doll, worse for much wear, and a Ken doll who’s immediately smitten with the newcomer Barbie. Alas, Sunnyside turns out to be a much darker place than its name suggests, and our scrappy band is soon plotting an escape as desperate as it is daring.

Moviegoers suffering from summer sequel fatigue can set to rest any doubts that Pixar's oldest franchise needed a third installment. “Toy Story 3” is fresh, funny, and wonderfully entertaining, but most amazingly, it feels necessary. Somehow the filmmakers turn what could have been a marker of the movie’s irrelevance—the 11-year gap since “Toy Story 2”—into a key reason for its resonance. For all its jollity, visual candy, and rollicking action, TS3 at its core is about something deeply serious. It’s about saying goodbye to childhood, a theme with particular poignancy for what I’m convinced is the film’s true target audience—namely, the kids who grew up with Andy, and with Harry Potter, and like them are only just now beginning to be adults. But its appeal obviously extends to anyone who’s ever made that transition.

“Toy Story 3” isn’t perfect, nor is it quite top-tier Pixar—admittedly a high bar to clear. The writers occasionally try too hard for laughs: I could have done without the extended joke of Buzz in Spanish-language mode, and with a little less ribbing of Ken and Barbie. The plot has its share of lapses in logic, and there’s no denying it stays pretty squarely within the classic Pixar mold: an unlikely alliance culminating in a madcap rescue/pursuit sequence, followed by a sweetly sentimental affirmation of the relationships developed over the course of the film.

Still, for every device or development that feels overly familiar, there’s a creative touch that’s purely exhilarating, like the zany, almost Surrealist sight gag of Mr. Potato-Head’s features fanned out on a tortilla (yes, a tortilla) and skittering away from a hungry bird, or unexpectedly chilling (if you’re like me and dolls give you the creeps, that Big Baby might give you nightmares.) And though the last scene teeters dangerously close to schmaltz, damned if I didn’t have a tear in my eye at the end, without the vague annoyance I usually feel when I’m being emotionally manipulated. Because there’s something about it, excessive "aww" factor aside, that really captures the bittersweetness of growing up and moving on to another stage of life. We take the memories with us, and leave the rest behind.


N.B: Don't bother seeing this movie in 3D. It's totally not worth the extra money, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a 3D skeptic.


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