01/07/2010. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
Some of the most serious films being made today are the comedies from Pixar Animation Studios that the whole family can enjoy. Pixar has another hit returning to the "Toy Story" franchise. In Toy Story 3 young Andy who always loved his toys is going to college and his toys are going into storage. As a last-minute reprieve they go instead to a day-care center where they can play until they break. Unfortunately that fate may not be as far away as they had hoped. The writing quality is what makes this film work as a comedy, an adventure, and a film with some serious affecting human drama.
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Pixar Animation Studios turn out films that are real audience pleasers. But what really is special about their films is not the animation, nice as it is. Pixar has some of the best writers making films these days. Films like Up and Toy Story 3 are great not because of the animation or even the situations, but because of the writing. The stories they made are genuinely affecting in ways that one does not expect from animated films. These films speak to very human worries of abandonment, rejection, disappointments and regrets.
These are very adult concerns but with humour and animation these fears can be discussed in a film that both children and adults can appreciate. What is marvellous about Pixar's animation is not that it is pretty and accomplished, it is what the animation lets them put into a story.
Toy Story (1995) was Pixar's first feature film. They proved the concept that a feature film could be made from digital animation and turned into a big hit for Disney Studios who released it. Disney commissioned an hour-long sequel to be released only on video. Instead, Pixar made a second feature film of Toy Story 2. Though this caused legal disputes between Disney and Pixar the film was another big success, being released in 1999.
That was eleven years ago and now with more grown-up characters the third "Toy Story" film has been released. Flying in the face of the principle that sequels decrease in quality, the "Toy Story" films become more profound and intelligent with each new chapter. Toy Story 3 looks deeper into the relationships between toys and humans. The issues it faces can be seen as a view into the moral implications of slavery or of the relationship between humans and God.
As we join Toy Story 3, Andy is having a big-screen adventure with his toys. Then we bridge to the present. It is many years after the time of the last chapter and Andy (voiced by John Morris) is now a young adult ready to go off to college. He has not played with his toys in years. The toys are aware that the order of things they knew us coming to an end. Andy plans to take Woody (Tom Hanks) to college with him and the other toys are destined to end up in a plastic trash bag in the attic. Through the standard sorts of mix-ups the toys instead are taken to be donated at a local daycare center. At first this seems to be the best of all possible worlds. But the toys are going to discover that some humans are better than others. And so are some toys.
This story is a proper sequel to Toy Story 2. It is not just a new story with the same characters and certainly not a retelling of a previous story. Instead it resolves issues that came up in the previous film. In Toy Story 2 Woody realized that Andy was going to grow up and become too old for the ageless Woody. Woody came to realise that his relationship with Andy was only temporary. That was what happened to Jessie when her owner grew too old for her. Toy Story 3 is the story of that actually happening and Woody has to make some tough choices.
A "Toy Story" film is an allegory every bit as much as George Orwell's Animal Farm. It creates complex human situations beyond what its younger audience can appreciate. That is what sets it apart from the classic Disney films prior to the Pixar films or most studio theatrical films these days. Someone has given thought to the depth of these characters. Even the villain has good reason for what he does.
This is a film with comedy, action, adventure, horror, and some very affecting human drama. It is an understatement to call it simply remarkable that it does all that it does. As good as films like Finding Nemo are, more recent Pixar films show greater sophistication in their writing. For such a complex film to seem on the surface so simple is no mean feat. Credit should be given to Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich who wrote the film.
I rate Toy Story 3 a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. Some scenes might be scary for younger children, but did not seem to be with my audience. Perhaps young children are harder to scare today.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper
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