Thursday, June 18, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Toy Story 3 Review

It has big shoes to fill, but at least it tries.
by tommy (movies profile) Jul 24, 2010

Can you believe that Toy Story is now well over a decade old as a franchise? Logically, that means most people that were kids coming for the cute animated toys the first time are now adults.

Don't think, however that this aging has made people outgrow the series, because beneath the cuddly exterior of Toy Story is a dark atmosphere, one which leaves few philosophical questions about the ugly implications of a world where toys are alive untouched. The first film's conflict was derived from a toy's fears of being rejected by another toy, that other toy's slow, painful realization that he wasn't really the romantic hero he was meant to represent, and the horrors of a sociopathic, would be "mad scientist" who breaks and hybridizes toys for fun. The second explored the fears of toys' masters leaving them when they grow up, unaware that their toys are sentient beings with feeling. As everyone who knew and loved it hoped it would, this recurring theme of exploring the dark side of whimsy has returned--but maybe not with the freshness it once had.

Toy Story 3 is almost certainly the grimmest of the series, perhaps in part because it can safely be so while retaining the support of its original fans, now more matured. They aren't only ones; the film's conflict arc opens with Andy, the series' cheery-eyed, imaginative boy and owner of Woody and Buzz, about to head off to College, the fate of our plastic protagonists hanging in the balance. Through a quick string of unfortunate events and misunderstandings, the Toys end up at marooned at Sunnyside Daycare. The conflict then arises between Woody, who is hopelessly optimistic that Andy will come through and rescue the lot of them from a life of misery, and the rest of the toys, who are willing to embrace this new Utopia where toys are played with forever.

Unfortunately, they turn out to be wrong too when, like many attempted utopias, Sunnyside turns out to be horribly corrupt. Under the reign of a tyrannical Teddy bear (Goofy alliteration is fun; isn't it?!) named Lotso, they find that the new society has a gross dislike of humanity and forces rookies to suffer a hellish experience with underaged children in order to gain merit in the new society of vengeful toys. (Parents take note there; this film's opinion of babies seems less than liberal a lot of the time, one of many reasons you might consider leaving your youngest at home.) After harrowing experiences push the toys LITERALLY near to their breaking points, Woody hatches a plan to return to Sunnyside and free his friends.

It is here that the film settles into its own element, for better or for worse. Perhaps the biggest flaw with Toy Story 3 is that it just isn't as fresh as you hope; take our villain, for example. In many other cases, Lotso would have made one of the most effective antagonists in recent memory. A lot of publicity surrounded the character in pre-release media, even a hoaxed 1980s commercial released on Youtube, with the general attempt of endearing him to the public before they were floored with the revelation of him as actually being a zealous, vengeful brute. Unfortunately, he doesn't pack the emotional punch he should because he's also more than a little similar to last movie's villain, the tellingly named Stinky Pete. There's little about his dark secrets that are unpredictable to series veterans, so you're left with a lose-lose character who could simultaneously traumatize children and leave adults rather underwhelmed.

As to other new characters to this film, most of them underwhelm for a different reason--they're packed too tight, to the point that none of them individually get a chance to shine, merely an occasional line in edgewise, and it's a shame because many of them are rather cute. There is one big, pleasantly surprising exception, though, and more on that soon.

With all the negative things I've said about the new additions to the cast, you'd be forgiven for concluding I didn't like the film, but not correct--because while this film doesn't make as many new friends as it should (Or maybe it just makes TOO MANY at once), it sure keeps the old, and fanservice may be the film's strongest element. The opening is a brilliant tribute to the imaginary adventures featured in the past two films, both hilarious and epic, long-time butt monkey Mr. Potatohead gets his moment in the limelight at the middle of the film (still played for laughs, but nonetheless impressive), the series' most legendary meme, "The Claw" is back in a big way, and most interesting of all is the direction Barbie (yes, THAT Barbie) was taken in.

United with her canon love interest, Ken, the two become a very integral part of the plot, and delightfully deconstruct viewers' negative preconceptions of them through a number of action scenes and some intelligent socio-political commentary. It isn't going to come as much shock to those who followed this film's publicity that Ken, lovingly voiced by Michael Keaton, arguably steals much of the show, but even they will likely find some of his scenes interacting with Barbie and the rest of the gang both surprisingly serious at some times and "how did they get this past the censors" funny at others.

At the end of the day, this is Toy Story all over, for both better and worse. Longtime fans may find some of it too familiar, but they also get loads of amusing lines or even outright scenes written just for them. Parents of young newcomers may well find this more adult-oriented approach terrifying their infants, but it really seems appropriate to those of us who have grown up with the series without growing out of it, and in daring to make a film that may horrify modern infants and by extension, their parents, Pixar might just gain more respect among purely adult circles. As the third installment of what is constantly hailed as among the greatest animated film series ever, it has some big shoes to fill, but at least it tries.

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