By Marty Mulrooney
After languishing in development hell for nearly ten years, Toy Story 3 has finally arrived. Disney’s own Circle 7 Animation tried to do a third sequel without Pixar’s involvement in 2004, but when relationships were patched up in 2006 (Disney actually bought Pixar in January of that year for $7.4 billion) production was halted and the project transferred back to Pixar where it belonged. Four years later, the toys are back in town for one final adventure, this time in Disney Digital 3D.
After the fantastic sequel Toy Story 2 in 1999, I didn’t think Pixar would ever be able to top themselves with another instalment in the Toy Story franchise. Yet over the past month I have heard plenty of positive feedback for Toy Story 3, due in part to it hitting the UK almost a month after its native American release. The press have been unanimous in their praise. Many reviewers (most of them grown men) have even said that the film managed to make them cry. Knowing what a big softy I am, I marched into the cinema with tissues at the ready.
Toy Story 3 feels just right. These are characters from our childhoods. They are timeless. Tom Hanks as Woody and Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear embody their characters so effortlessly that it transcends merely applying a voice to moving pixels on screen. Likewise, the rest of the voice cast never falter. Something extraordinary happens as a result: the viewer truly starts to believe that these characters are real. I am a huge advocate of traditional animation, yet I feel with Toy Story 3, Pixar have perfected CG animation as an art form.
Director Lee Unkrich wisely avoids retreading past storylines, instead using the ten year gap since the last Toy Story film to his advantage. Andy is now 17 and moving to college. Many toys from the previous films have been given away or thrown out in the intervening years; only a select few remain. Like many young adults, he struggles to let go of the remaining few toys that, although kept in a toy chest out of sight, still evoke powerful memories and hold sentimental value. But with college looming, it is time to finally make a choice: take them with him, put them in the attic, donate them or throw them in the trash.
As far as college goes, only Woody makes the cut: the one toy that it is acceptable to hold onto without looking too childish. The rest are destined for the attic, but via the many clever plot devices of a script where nothing is left to chance, a mix up occurs and they end up in the trash. One thing leads to another and the misplaced toys, feeling unwanted, donate themselves to the tranquil sounding Sunnyside Daycare. Yet not everything is as it seems in this toy paradise lead by the enigmatic cuddly bear Lotoso (Ned Beatty). Woody’s friends desperately need his help…
Which is when the whole film suddenly turns itself upside down and becomes something fresh, new, exciting and heart-wrenching. The beginning is deceptively formulaic: once the film kicks into gear, it is just as involving as any live action escape picture. Watching the gang hatch a plan to bust out of this toy prison is one of the most satisfying and hilarious narratives I have seen in any motion picture. This isn’t just a parody or a homage. It can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best escape movies ever made.
Without spoiling the main plot, there are so many great scenes here that I find it hard to imagine any fan walking away disappointed. Buzz’s ‘Spanish mode’ is hilarious. Mr. Potato Head’s makeshift body replacements had me choking with laughter. Ken (Michael Keaton on top form) modelling his vast array of outfits, accompanied by outbursts of despair whenever somebody hints that he is in fact a ‘girl’s’ toy, is priceless. Barbie (Jodi Benson) completely steals the show, making the outdated doll feel relevant again with her mix of good looks, fashion sense and surprising intelligence. She is unstoppable. Pixar even manages to include a Totoro doll, (a nod to their friends at Studio Ghibli) an exact replica of which is sat on my shelf at home.
What amazes me most about Toy Story 3 it that it never feels bloated or takes itself too seriously. It deals with some surprisingly weighty issues that can tug at your heartstrings, but moments later will leave you laughing uncontrollably. The 3D version does work well overall, adding depth of field throughout, but I didn’t feel it was strictly necessary. Why use 3D at all if it isn’t going to be utilised more extensively? I am sure viewers experiencing the film in 2D will have just as good a time as I did. This is certainly going to be a killer Blu-ray further down the line.
Did I cry? I may have shed a slight tear… but it wasn’t at the very end like most reviewers have mentioned. There is certainly a beautiful full-circle moment involving Andy and his toys that will cause many teenagers and adults to well up whilst watching because it rings so true… yet I personally always felt that the toys were the emotional focus and not the humans. All it took to make my own eyes fill up was witnessing the old gang holding hands in the face of nearly certain doom. Powerful, emotional cinema where I least expected it.
Toy Story 3 is phenomenal. Everything feels well wrapped up by the time the final credits roll and the message the film offers to younger viewers is a strong one. Toys can last several lifetimes and bring joy to many different generations of children. I felt great as I exited the cinema. It isn’t perfect, but it is one of most heartfelt and hilarious motion pictures you will see in 2010. Congratulations Pixar, you have ended the trilogy on a high note.
10 OUT OF 10
All Images © Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.