Jun 8 2010

Toy Story 3

Pixar does it AGAIN. 4/4

Just when I think I’ve outgrown Pixar films, they go and release a film like Toy Story 3.

The best cartoons are the ones that are made for kids, yet have something for the adults to enjoy, whether it’s a few well-disguised jokes that go past the kids’ heads, fascinating animation, or just good old-fashioned nostalgia.  It’s in this way that Pixar is the sneakiest of film companies: they don’t make cartoons, they make real films.  They just happen to be animated.

Kids love Pixar movies.  The animation is state-of-the-art, there are a few good lines that they enjoy, and stories are laid out easy enough where children can follow along with ease.  However, Pixar films tend to contain a lot that their apparent demographic will miss entirely.

Toy Story 3 opens with a great train robbery in the midst of being foiled by heroic sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) that quickly descends into anachronistic delight.  Following the playtime fantasy, we are quickly re-introduced to the old gang, including recent high school graduate Andy, who has outgrown his beloved toys and is preparing to go off to college.  Fearing the threat of being thrown out, the gang deals with issues of age and abandonment, and decide to get themselves “adopted” by a nearby daycare facility, run by old plushy bear Uncle Lotso (Ned Beatty).

Having yet to deal with age and change, kids will recognize the conflict in the plot, but fail to recognize its depth; adults will not have that luxury.  Toy Story 3 perfectly captures everything about the pains of watching your children growing up.

Parents in the audience will no doubt feel an uncomfortable foreshadowing concerning their own children’s entrance into college and adulthood, and the toys stand in for those who feel neglected of abandoned by their own children.  Most of us never really abandon our parents in the most grave of definitions, but our children, like us before them, never stay “Daddy’s Little Girl,” or “Mommy’s Baby Boy” forever.  In fact, once we hit our teens, it’s the first title we’re glad to leave behind us.  Not to mention that there is nothing more heart wrenching for a parent than the thought of their child suddenly running off to college to become whoever they’re meant to be.  But, there is little else for a parent to do, other than remain behind on standby for whatever reason brings one’s child back to the nest, a sentiment embodied by the ever loyal Woody.  Always the patriarch of the group, it is appropriate that Woody plays the stand-in for parents: old and underappreciated, but dedicated to always be there.

The changes people (and toys) go through while growing up is at the heart of virtually every scene in Toy Story 3.  Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the rest of the gang are faced with the question, “Well, where do we go from here?” a question that haunts those of us who suddenly realize that our childhood is now something behind us.  As Andy prepares to leave his home behind for an unwritten tomorrow, the toys also leave their home for a place rife with uncertainty.  In a way, we’ve all felt that kind of fear against new horizons, always hounded by that question, “Where do I go?  Am I in the right place?”  Pixar, of course, displays this sentiment perfectly.

More so than the previous Toy Story films, Toy Story 3 indulges in the dark side of age and abandonment.  With some coming to grips with some very real fears and others being entirely changed by them, the film refuses to sugarcoat the effects of being left behind by loved ones.  If any other film had dealt with the anger and depression of loss by telling the story of a toy left behind, I can’t imagine taking it too seriously, let alone be effected by it, yet Toy Story 3 conveys some pretty tangible emotions with an impressive amount of honesty and thought behind it.

Deeper themes aside, Pixar shows that it has its eye on the changing times and trends of today’s youth.  The Apple invasion and presence of iEverything cleverly makes itself into several parts of the film, which makes for a clever gimmick, but also shows us just how much time has gone between now and the other Toy Story films.  The realization that iPods, let alone their expected place in our culture, are barely a decade old makes you feel your age.

The storytelling in the film is nothing less than perfect.  The film’s plot flows effortlessly, and the filmmakers know just when to make what reference in the story.  The second half of the film delights in showing of the resourcefulness of the toys’ interaction in the real world, and invokes the memory of some of our favorite prison escape films, from The Great Escape to Escape from Alcatraz.  The cast of new characters are highly enjoyable as well, particularly the inclusion of Barbie (Jodi Benson), who’s just as you’d expect, and a scene stealing Ken (Michael Keaton, always a pleasure), who’s obsession with clothes will have adults in stitches.

Toy Story 3 secures itself firmly as one of Pixar’s finest films, which is especially impressive given it’s the third of a series.  Never stale or recycled for a moment, it captures that universal spark that touched the imagination of every child and adult alike.  It is nothing short of amazing that an animated film about walking and talking toys can so profoundly make us laugh, make us cry, make us reflect, and leave us feeling young and vulnerable again.

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