Monday, July 05, 2010

In Theaters: Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 posted and IMPAwards link
So here I am again, honor bound to tell you that Pixar has once again made an amazing movie. TOY STORY 3, despite coming 11 years after the last installment in the series, and despite being the third in a trilogy (historically a dangerous position), is as entertaining as the first two and serves as a nice capstone on the series. It seems almost futile to report this, since everyone seems to know already. But since I started this blog I’ve reviewed every Pixar release, so why stop now?

Andy (voiced by John Morris) is about to head for college, and his ageless toys haven’t been properly played with in years. They’re about ready to head to the attic, there to await the next generation of kids, but a mix-up during moving has them convinced they’re destined for the trash heap. So instead they hitch a ride to get donated to the Sunnyside day care center, where they’re promised a life of luxury and constant playtime. Unfortunately, head honcho Lotso Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty) isn’t quite as kindly as he seems, and has the new toys stashed in the caterpillar room, where the kids who have not yet learned to play gently heap all kinds of ungodly abuses on our durable friends. Woody (Tom Hanks) escapes this fate, marked to go with Andy to college, but when he learns what Sunnyside is all about, he has to rescue his friends.

This is the first Pixar movie I’ve gotten to see in 3-D, and it has its ups and downs. The technique is only really noticeable in the opening short, an ingenious mix of 3-D and 2-D animation called “Night and Day” that recalls the jazzy, experimental cartoons of the 50s and 60s. In the film proper, the third dimension adds an interesting effect to some scenes, but isn’t as integral to the experience as it was to, say, AVATAR. The process still causes eyestrain, I’m sad to say, and I worry if the gimmick/technique will endure as long as this is the case. But the 3-D doesn’t really detract from the experience either, and its use in the opening short is enough for me to recommend that you see it this way.

There’s an obvious common thread through all the TOY STORY films, in that they all involve the toys worrying about their future, becoming separated from the playroom, and facing all sorts of large scale dangers in an attempt to get back where they belong. That the formula is still fresh may partly be down to the fact that Pixar have let 11 years pass since the last entry, but it’s also due to the variations the writers have come up with this time. Sunnyside is an ingenious conceit, a sort of prison with a strict pyramid structure- Lotso and his favored toys get to be with the older kids, while newbies have to endure the Caterpillar Room until they curry favor with the boss. Woody finds himself in a little girl’s toy group, who basically think of themselves as theatre folk who do a lot of improv, and Buzz (Tim Allen) finds himself brainwashed and reset to “demo” mode, only for this too to get tweaked in... interesting ways.

Along the way there’s a good riff on the old prison-escape-movie genre, a whirlwind romance between Barbie and Ken, and a few segues into really dark territory that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Pixar’s modus operandi. The tone is pretty well balanced between the funnier and more horrific moments, and I have to say that none of the action or chase sequences feels over stretched.

The voice acting is, in the best way, virtually imperceptible- we know most of these characters, we believe their interactions, and we don’t think about the voices behind the mic. It helps that there’s not a lot of celebrity casting, though a few interesting names pop up. It is curious that Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts in previous installments, doesn’t return here, having been given away offscreen, and sadly Jim Varney is no longer around to provide the voice of Slinky Dog.

Look, what can I say? Pixar is developing a track record that’s unlike any other studio in decades. TOY STORY 3 is up to its usual standards, which means it’s a great film. There’s no reason not to see it (if you don’t like 3-D, there are probably 2-D screenings out there.) There simply isn’t much more to observe, and writing this thing has taken long enough already. This is a superb finish to the story begun 15 years ago, and reminds us all to take care of those things which inspire our imaginations.

Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich
Screenplay by Michael Arndt
Directed by Lee Unkrich

Grade: A

No comments: