A little more time has passed than I traditionally like for these instant reviews, but I’m still in the glow of what I have just witnessed. Well, to start off with, the intro short is one of the most ambitions creative things I’ve ever seen. Things a beast. There just isn’t anything more to say about it. It’s pretty difficult to describe it. Visually there’s a cartoon shape that is all traditional 2D, and inside where a solid color would be, is just transparency. As it moves the scenes inside it change. It soon meets another shape and they play off of each other. Know what? Just find it and watch it. Thing is balls out amazing.
So on to toy story. Wow. There honestly isn’t much else to say. I was seriously blown away by it. When you have sequels to something it can go any number of ways. It seems that a lot of sequels end up going down a path that doesn’t allow it to measure up to previous ventures, and when you add a third movie (or more) to a franchise you quickly find yourself coming straight into contact with the law of diminishing returns. You have a good idea in movie 1. When movie 2 comes around that idea is no longer fresh, so even if the movie has the same amount of quality as the first one, you don’t feel as satisfied after watching it. You’ve seen all the ideas that world had to offer the first go round. Pixar has found a way to completely trash that idea with Toy Story 3. I came away feeling like this movie was better than the last two, and possibly by more than just a little bit.
Now, this wouldn’t be possible without Toy Story one and two. I have learned to love these characters over time. The first two movies being as good as they are meant that before this movie ever started I was happy to see them again. I expected just another good movie featuring Woody, Buzz and the crew and would’ve been perfectly content if that’s all I got. Five seconds into the thing I knew I was in for something special. I’m terrible at not spoiling things, so if you haven’t seen it get out now. The movie opens up in Andy’s imagination as he plays with his toys. We get to live out an absurd scenario with Woody and Jessie tracking down ruthless train robbers Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. As the action progresses Evil Dr. Porkchop (played by the suave and dastardly Ham) shows up as well as Buzz and the barrel of monkeys. Trolls and ‘Pizza Planet’ Aliens. It’s just a riot. I knew as soon as that scene ended that I really had absolutely no shot of getting through the movie without ending up in a heap of tears. Fortunately for me and my dignity I was around other people that I knew and kept it together mostly from fear of never ending ridicule.
The bulk of the movie is about the notion of moving on from your childhood and leaving behind all that junk that use to fill your life. It’s about separation anxiety, and finding one’s purpose in life. it’s about what goes wrong when you don’t have a serious coping mechanism to deal with grief. It’s about the kinds of messes you can get into when you jump to conclusions. I guess you could say it’s about what happens to a group of toys that are going to be left behind. They wound up in a situation that looked like the best thing that could possibly happen given their recent life changes, but upon further inspection it was a pit of despair. There’s a great deal in there about different kinds of leadership and about loyalty. The way Woody tries to build up and inspire the characters around him, and the way he holds to his beliefs is countered greatly by the way Lots-o-huggin Bear rules all around him with an iron fist.
I was a little taken aback by the darkness of the movie at parts. Not just an overt darkness, but a creepy tone I’m not sure Pixar has hit on before this. The brilliance of it is that Pixar couches all the stuff in the movie that could totally get you down with a well thought out sense of style and flare that never let the desperation become too much. I was watching it sandwich between a little girl that will be 5 in a few weeks and a slightly older girl that couldn’t be past the age of 8 or so. You could gage buy their reactions when the gripping darkness needed to be lifted, and right when those two girls were tensing up a break in the action would come. It wasn’t always by a gag either. Sometimes it would just be a turn of phrase to, if not change the mood, change the tone a bit.
I’m glad that every dark scene wasn’t accompanied by a huge slapstick joke. Toy Story already is that. While you’re watching the movie you get completely and totally absorbed in the world and at times you forget you’re dealing with a bunch of plastic and fluff that acts like plastic fluff would act physically. The way Rex bobbles about , the way barbie and ken walk, the way all the dolls sort of squish when they fall, the way the plastic characters sort of bounce when they hit stuff, it’s all a small reminder that even though this story is deadly serious to all the parties involved it’s still about a bunch of toys.
This movie really works on every level imaginable. Personally, I know I haven’t been this edge of my seat emotionally invested in a movie since. . .well I really can’t tell you the last time my heart was stuck in my gut for the ENTIRE duration of a movie. The whole thing. Part of that is something that may only be applicable to people in my general age range with a similar outlook on life. Toy Story happened when I was nine. NINE! I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I fully understood why and how much yet. I just knew the toys were cool and that the movie was fun. All that stuff about how the cowboy died out with the astronaut becoming our national hero didn’t mean a thing to me. Then Toy Story 2 happens when I’m thirteen. It’s middle school and even though I was there the first weekend I could go see it, it wasn’t something I was able to really talk to my peers about because animated movies weren’t cool to boys just rollin through puberty. Not the kind of subject matter they were really into.
Then that was it. I got older, I went off to college, I left behind some toys, I brought some toys with me, I passed some toys to younger people, I gained (and continue to pick up) new toys. Move the clock to this morning, I’m 23 years old. It’s been just about ten years since the last Toy Story released. The movie follows along with that because everyone is older. I’ll take a break here and say it’s amazing how much I care about Andy’s mom and little sister from the combined total of fifteen minutes we’ve spent with those two over the course of three movies. Anywho, that’s where a lot of the magic comes in for me. On this first viewing I was taken back to a time when the first Toy Story was out and I still actively lived in that world where toys were a huge part of my life. Where I beat mine to death and brought them back and played with them some more. Then at the very end of the movie it pounded home all the feelings I didn’t completely realize I had stored up from ten and fourteen years ago.
The final ten minutes of the movie were my undoing. No one dies, there’s no depressing sadness, only a fondness and happiness for life and childhood and imagination. To see what may be the final scenes for Andy along side Woody, Buzz, Rex, Ham, the potatoes, Jessie, Bullseye, the pizza planet aliens, and slinky was just a lot to handle. To see Andy’s mom deal with her son going off to college at the same time didn’t help at all. Then when the epilogue happens and we learn the true final fate for Andy’s box of toys and just how much happiness was there, I was so done. Really it was ten minutes of unadulterated joy.
I kept myself to only a few tears, which is more than I can say for most of the theaters. Here’s the crazy part, the tears were almost exclusively from the adults in the audience. I’m not exactly sure what made each of the people who were losing it lose it, but it seemed to be different for most people. There were definitely people who recently sent their kids off to college dying in there. There were people like me who are just realizing how much better their lives were for having known these toys for so long. I heard someone say they were crying because they were remembering how much fun they use to have playing with toys and were reflecting on how little of their previous imagination remained. To state all the reasons people left that theater bawling would give too much away.
It’s not often you see a movie and leave it feeling like the world is a little bit better for what you had just watched. That’s not to say other movies aren’t good. People know how much I love mindless stuff like Ninja Assassin. Taken is one of my favorite movies. Before Toy Story 3 my absolute favorite in theater experience was the 2007 Transformers midnight showing. The thing is, when I left the theater or took some movies out of my dvd player or what have you, that was it. I may have thought about some movies more than others. I have debated what really happened in Pan’s Labyrinth. I have spent time in thought about Moon or Aimee. The difference here is, I left toy story 3 being genuinely happy that movie exists. I cannot wait to tell others about it and to show it to them, knowing good and well the effect it had on me is entirely different that the one it will have on them, but it’ll be an effect none the less. It’ll bring up some piece of emotion in them whether they know it or not. This is the kind of movie I end up writing hand written letters to the creators thanking them for what they’ve given me.
P.S. mad props to Lee Unkrich who directed this movie. Really smart job of doing smart stuff to make the movie fit. It would’ve been easy to try and blow the cast up and try to balance fifty toys and make the movie bigger than the last one, but going smaller really just made the tear jerker ending all the more special. And El Buzz may be the best movie character of all time. (There’s a hyperbolic statement for ya.)