Tag Archives: Toy Story 3

Third time’s the charmer

So I took the Villa Villekulla clan to see Toy Story 3 the other day, and you’ll just have to deal with the fact that this is not going to be the space for any Armond White-style contrarianism about what deserves to be the most widely loved movie since E.T. waddled across the screen back in 1982. I didn’t much care for E.T. at the time, and I still think it’s a cold-eyed, manipulative, bombastic piece of junk.  But where Toy Story 3 is concerned, this blog is a contrarianism-free zone. The movie had me in the palm of its hand right from its opening, and during the final act — which begins at the moment Andy’s mother clutches up at the sight of his empty room — I was ready to do anything for the people at Pixar. Bring them coffee in the morning, drive them to work, wash their cars, babysit their kids — whatever.

My biggest problem with last summer’s Pixar entry, Up, was that the  silly action-blast finale was a disappointing step back from the deep chords of emotion sounded in the film’s opening. No such problem with Toy Story 3. The film is loaded with action sequences, satire, pop-culture jokes, and slapstick, but they all mesh perfectly with deeper character moments and poignant twists. There’s nary a misstep nor a cheap shot in any of its 90 or so minutes, and every one of its emotional beats is well earned indeed.

It’s been a good 15 years since that first Toy Story, and the Pixar crew have done more with that time than simply upgrade their computers. The story may feel light as air, but a lot of heavy thinking has gone into it. The thematic linkages between all three movies are dense and cleverly worked out, and Toy Story 3 pulls them into a  fine, tight knot.

I’m know  I’m going to see Toy Story 3 at least a few more times once it hits DVD, but even a single viewing gives me plenty to chew on.  The imaginary play that opened Toy Story is recapitulated at the start of Toy Story 3, only this time from within Andy’s mind. The villains in all three films have been guilty of misusing toys, whether by torturing them, putting them on display away from children, or deliberately leaving them vulnerable to abuse. Having shown us what should not be done with toys. Toy Story 3 concludes by showing us what should be done with toys. Without being at all heavy handed, the film argues for imaginative play as a means of moral and emotional development, and in its quiet way the conclusion of Toy Story 3 is one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in a theater.

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The Pixar version

Anton Ego

A few days ago I watched Ratatouille again, both for the splendor of its animation — I love the riot of textures and metallic surfaces in the kitchen — and the generosity of its finale, in which the heroes triumph over the sepulchral food critic Anton Ego. I was also nudged by Patton Oswalt’s hilarious new record, My Weakness Is Strong, which includes a few routines about his voice work on the film, in which he played Remy the rodent hero.

But the finale written by Brad Bird — who, after The Iron Giant and The Incredibles rates second only to Hayao Miyazaki in my book of great animators — is what always brings me back to Ratatouille. Any other animation shop would have devised a slapstick comeuppance for the critic and called it a day. In Ratatouille, Remy and his friends win him over by bringing him back to himself, and the story gives Ego not only that deeply touching flashback to his childhood, but the space to offer the film’s best line:  “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” A clip is at the bottom of this post. Consider the Spanish subtitles an educational plus.

After I saw Up — which is, despite my reservations about its second half, further proof that Pixar is the unchallenged standard-bearer for animated storytelling — I thought back to the recent corporate battle between John Lasseter’s shop and Disney, the corporate parent Pixar has creatively eclipsed.

Has there ever been a more crushing confession of failure than Disney’s threat, implicit in the renegotiation of its distribution deal with Pixar, to rush ahead with a second Toy Story sequel if Pixar went with another company? Disney was frankly admitting that its movies stink, its formulas are played out and its fund of creativity exhausted — and threatening to apply all those liabilities to Pixar’s most treasured property. “Work with us, or you’ll see just how badly we can suck.” Some negotiating tactic!

Reviewing the film in The New Yorker,  David Denby makes some cogent points about the distinction between Pixar films and Disney:

Yes, there was the classic Disney group of animated features, released between 1937 and 1942, which included “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” “Bambi,” and “Dumbo.” Children still love them, though this aging child doesn’t, really. The old Disney dispensation went roughly as follows: The material was largely based on fairy tales, with princes and queens and wicked stepmothers. Animals with long eyelashes engaged in gentle woodland conversation. There was much anthropomorphic charm, much sweet melodiousness, and, running through the sugar, a vinegary taste of fear, separation, punishment. The entire Bruno Bettelheim catalogue of psychological terrors churned below the surface. By now (for me, at least), the cloyingness, with its malevolent undertones, seems too calculated and heavy-spirited. But the recent Pixar films are something else. These movies are fashioned as much for adults as for kids. Set in the modern world, they are built around an exhilarating drive for achievement. A family of libertarian superheroes refuses to accept enforced mediocrity (“The Incredibles”). A talented rat wants to practice the art of cooking (“Ratatouille”). A robot saves the aesthetic remnants of a civilization ruined by excess and pollution (“WALL-E”). Some of the characters are isolated; they are all intelligent and strongly motivated. We’ve gone from psychological fable to moral fable, from fate to something like self-willed, even civic, passion.

There is much to like and dislike in the Disney catalogue, but my biggest beef with those canonical works — many of which I otherwise admire — was to give multiple generations of viewers the false idea that they actually know the story of Pinocchio, or the Little Mermaid, or Cinderella. You could argue that the original versions of those tales would be unpalatable to contemporary audience, and you might even be right. But the Disney operation’s habit of processing folk tales and forgotten classics into contemporary Cheez Whiz has been a problem for a lot of people, starting with Richard Schickel (whose 1968 book The Disney Version was the first serious attempt to examine the workings of Uncle Walt’s dream factory), and it played a big role in the company’s creative stagnation.

Right from the start, Pixar movies have turned their backs on stale fake-folktale plots and used contemporary materials with great freshness and ingenuity. Along with that “drive for achievement” Denby notes, Pixar movies also have a much broader emotional palette, including a readiness to weave adult fears and emotions into their kid-friendly storylines. The best line in the original Toy Story — “This isn’t flying, it’s falling with style!” — was taken even further in Toy Story 2, which quite explicitly addresses fears of mortality and the decision to make the most of your time regardless of what’s ahead. Apparently next year’s Toy Story 3 will continue that line of development, and I’m eager to see where they go with it.

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