Sunday, June 20, 2010

Film Reviews: 'Toy Story 3'

Voyage to the Bottom of the Day Care Center

The New York Times
Published: June 18, 2010

This movie has been designated a Critic's Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is hoisted by his friends in “Toy Story 3.”

“Toy Story 3” begins with a rattling, exuberant set piece that has nothing to do with the tale that follows but that nonetheless sums up the ingenuity, and some of the paradoxes, that have made this Pixar franchise so marvelous and so successful. The major toys — Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), the Potato Heads (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and the others — are in a setting at once wholly unfamiliar and instantly recognizable. They’re in a western, albeit one made in the amped-up modern action style, rather than the more stately idiom of old-time oaters. A train is hurtling down the tracks; a bridge explodes; stuff is falling out of the sky. There are force fields and laser beams and a big noisy surprise every time you blink.

At first glance your heart may sink a little. Can it be that “Toy Story,” built over 15 years and two previous movies out of the unlikely bonds that flourished among a band of beautifully animated inanimate characters (and Andy, the mostly unseen boy who collects them), has succumbed to flashy commercial blockbuster imperatives? Or would we be fooling ourselves to suppose that it has ever been anything else?

The resolution of the opening scene in the latest episode shows this to be a false choice. The action is taking place in Andy’s head as he plays with his toys. All those crazy effects are the products of his restless and inexhaustible imagination, which is no less his for having been formed and fed by movies, television shows and the cheap merchandise spun out of them.

And how many real kids who have grown up with Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody have unspooled their own improvised movies on the rec room floor? Perhaps no series of movies has so brilliantly grasped the emotional logic that binds the innate creativity of children at play to the machinery of mass entertainment. Each one feeds, and colonizes, the other. And perhaps only Pixar, a company Utopian in its faith in technological progress, artisanal in its devotion to quality and nearly unbeatable in its marketing savvy, could have engineered a sweeping capitalist narrative of such grandeur and charm as the “Toy Story” features. “Toy Story 3” is as sweet, as touching, as humane a movie as you are likely to see this summer, and yet it is all about doodads stamped and molded out of plastic and polyester.

Therein lies its genius, and its uncanny authenticity. A tale that captured the romance and pathos of the consumer economy, the sorrows and pleasures that dwell at the heart of our materialist way of life, could only be told from the standpoint of the commodities themselves, those accretions of synthetic substance and alienated labor we somehow endow with souls.

Cars, appliances, laptops, iPads: we love them, and we profess that love daily. Its purest, most innocent expression — but also its most vulnerable and perishable — is the attachment formed between children and the toys we buy them. “I want that!” “That’s mine!” Slogans of acquisitive selfishness, to be sure, but also articulations of desire and loyalty. The first “Toy Story” acknowledged this bond, and “Toy Story 2” turned it into a source of startlingly deep emotion.

When Woody chose life with Andy and the others over immortality with Stinky Pete at the museum, he was embracing a destiny built on his own disposability. When we grow up, or just grow tired of last year’s cool stuff, we don’t just put away those childish things, we throw them out. “Face it, we’re just trash,” says a bitter pink teddy bear near the end of “Toy Story 3.” Though the movie, directed by Lee Unkrich from a script by Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), labors to dispel the gloom of this statement, it can’t entirely disprove it.

As Andy prepares for college, Woody surveys the depleted ranks of his pals, noting that some have passed on (rest in peace, Wheezy) and reassuring the others that everything will be fine. They’ll live in the attic until the next generation comes along. But instead they wind up at the Sunnyside Daycare Center, which at first seems like a paradise where the problem of obsolescence has been magically solved. Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), its seemingly jovial patriarch, explains that there, toys are played with every day, and when one group of youngsters outgrows them, another cohort arrives. It’s a perfect reversal of the single-owner predicament, and most of the toys are relieved and happy — especially Barbie, voiced by Jodi Benson, who finds a Ken with a fabulous wardrobe and the voice of Michael Keaton.

The change of scene, and Woody’s subsequent journey to the home of a little girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn), allows the filmmakers to introduce a bevy of new toys, including a talking phone and a purple octopus who sounds a lot like one of the hosts of “The View.”

“Toy Story 3,” which makes remarkably subtle use of 3-D, also explores a range of cinematic techniques undreamed of in the first two chapters, and refined in recent Pixar films like “Wall-E” and “Up.” There are swiftly edited action sequences worthy of a “Bourne” movie; low-angle compositions and nimble tracking shots; changes in the color saturation and the texture of the light — just like in a “real” movie! When the truth about Sunnyside is revealed, the movie has fun evoking prison escape pictures and horror films, darkening the Pixar palette to captivating (and, to some small children, possibly frightening) effect.

In providing sheer moviegoing satisfaction — plot, characters, verbal wit and visual delight, cheap laughs and honest sentiment — “Toy Story 3” is wondrously generous and inventive. It is also, by the time it reaches a quiet denouement that balances its noisy beginning, moving in the way that parts of “Up” were. That is, this film — this whole three-part, 15-year epic — about the adventures of a bunch of silly plastic junk turns out also to be a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence and that noble, stubborn, foolish thing called love. We all know money can’t buy it, except sometimes, for the price of a plastic figurine or a movie ticket.

“Toy Story 3” is rated G (General audiences). Some of the mean toys might be a little scary, and the danger the nice toys face becomes pretty intense at times.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Lee Unkrich; written by Michael Arndt, based on a story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Mr. Unkrich; directors of photography, Jeremy Lasky and Kim White; edited by Ken Schretzmann; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Bob Pauley; produced by Darla K. Anderson; released by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is rated G.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Joan Cusack (Jessie), Ned Beatty (Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), Michael Keaton (Ken), Wallace Shawn (Rex), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Estelle Harris (Mrs. Potato Head), John Morris (Andy), Jodi Benson (Barbie) and Emily Hahn (Bonnie).

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Movie review: 'Toy Story 3'

A welcome love note to movies that has fun with its endearing characters yet isn't afraid to put genuine emotion onscreen.

By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
June 18, 2010

If Pixar is the only sure thing in movies today — and it is — then the "Toy Story" franchise is its most reliable component. So while it's not exactly a surprise to say that "Toy Story 3" is everything you hoped it would be, it is something of a relief.

For as survivors of say " The Godfather, Part III" remember, the third time can be the death knell for a much admired series. "Toy Story 3" has prospered where others have faltered because it has simultaneously stayed true to its roots and expanded its reach. And because in ways both small and large the people behind the franchise simply love movies to death.

Directed by Lee Unkrich and starring the familiar voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn and the rest of the toy gang, "Toy Story 3" pays attention to the reasons we return again and again to the motion picture experience.

As written by Michael Arndt, an Oscar winner for "Little Miss Sunshine," "Toy 3" manages to offer jeopardy and thrills plus unexpected moments of melancholy while never forgetting to have the most fun possible. Best, and most characteristic of Pixar overall, it understands genuine emotion and is not afraid to get it up there on the screen.

On one level the story of a group of toys trying to live up to their responsibilities and deal with change, on another a treatise on the end of childhood and the importance of love and meaning in life, "Toy 3" continues to do the impossible by making us believe that toys are people too, idiosyncratic individuals with lives and minds of their own. The film's unobtrusive 3-D version enhances this reality without calling attention to itself.

Director Unkrich was an editor on the original "Toy Story" and co-directed "Toy Story 2," but that is not the only way franchise continuity has been maintained. A "Toy Story" brain trust, including executive producer John Lasseter and producer Darla K. Anderson, met to block out the main action, Andrew Stanton (who co-wrote the first two scripts) then did a treatment, and finally Arndt, who's worked for Pixar since 2005, took on the script.

Given that it's been more than a decade since the previous chapter, "Toy Story 3's" core notion is nothing if not organic: Andy (John Morris), the young boy who owns all the "Toy Story" toys, has quite simply gotten older and is in fact only a few days away from heading for college and leaving his toys behind. As Lasseter has explained, in the toy world "when you're broken, you can be fixed; when you're lost, you can be found; when you're stolen you can be recovered. But there's no way to fix being outgrown by the child."

Not that Andy's toys have given up, far from it. Led as always by top gun Sheriff Woody (Hanks) and intrepid spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Allen), the gang launches Operation Playtime, a desperate maneuver to remind Andy of their existence and get him to play with them one more time. Needless to say, it doesn't work, and that sends the toys into a tailspin.

"This is just sad," one of them says, dinosaur Rex (Shawn) moans that he "hates all this uncertainty," Buzz Lightyear suggests everyone get ready to go into "attic mode," but Woody steadfastly insists that "Andy's going to take care of us." Furthermore, he maintains that it is a toy's responsibility to always be there for Andy no matter what sacrifices that entails.

Through a series of mistakes and misadventures, Andy's toys end up in Sunnyside, a cheery-looking daycare center where they are welcome with open arms by Lots-o-Huggin' Bear, Lotso for short, the head toy in the place voiced with a folksy silver-tongued brio by Ned Beatty.

Forget those fears of daycare as a dumping ground for unwanted toys, Lotso says. "No owners means no heartbreak," the bear proclaims. "We own ourselves, we control our own destiny."

Despite these assurances, Woody escapes from Sunnyside because of his loyalty to Andy, but before he can reach home he is adopted by a little girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn) and gets to hang out with her toys, who view themselves as a kind of amateur theatrical troupe. "We do a lot of improv here," Woody is told, and the very proper Mr. Pricklepants ( Timothy Dalton), a hedgehog in lederhosen, approvingly inquires, "Are you classically trained?"

It's at Bonnie's that Woody finds out some dark truths about Sunnyside — "a place of ruin and despair," says the morose Chuckles the Clown (Bud Luckey) — and determines, in his best all-for-one-one-for-all mode, to attempt to rescue his beleaguered friends.

This is but the merest outline of a plot "The A-Team" team would envy, but even though there's a great deal of atmosphere and suspense in "Toy 3" (the production design team visited Alcatraz to get in the mood for Sunnyside) it's the film's comic moments which linger longest. To see Lotso's pal Ken ( Michael Keaton) show off his extensive wardrobe for Barbie ( Jodi Benson) or to witness Buzz Lightyear when he goes into an unexpected flamenco mode is to be in the presence of the unforgettable.

Lots of connections to other films dot "Toy Story 3," nods to the westerns of John Ford, the animation of Hayao Miyazaki and the kind of prison films where someone plays the harmonica on death row. But more than that, by creating the emotions we have always counted on and so rarely find anymore, this film becomes the kind of love note to movies we want and need.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

TIME's Review of Toy Story 3: 'An Instant Classic'

Monday, Jun. 14, 2010

Sheriff Woody is doing his durnedest to save the world from Hamm the piggy bank, alias Dr. Evil Porkchop — "That's Mister Dr. Evil Porkchop to you!" — before the Old West train Woody's on and the orphans inside crash to their doom. His cowgal pal Jessie rides to the rescue, and space ranger Buzz Lightyear is, as always, eager to take his friends "to infinity — and beyond!" But even they may be no match for the spaceship that descends and, when its doors open, reveals ...

... Reveals, in the first scene of Toy Story 3, that the boy Andy has a terrific time playing with his toys. In a bedroom strewn with all kinds of characters, from cowboys and astromen to a Slinky dog and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, the 7-year-old mashes genres together to accommodate them all. Toys trigger what the movie's director, Lee Unkrich, calls a child's "crazy, non sequitur imagination." They unlock his creativity, let him play out elaborate scenarios inspired by films and TV shows he's seen and then remade in the wild innocence of a young mind — one that knows all the rules of narrative but doesn't mind smashing them with Dadaist abandon.

That's the creative strategy at Pixar, which produced the first computer-animated feature, Toy Story, in 1995 and has bloomed ever since, through Finding Nemo, WALL•E and last year's Up. Pixar filmmakers have to be able to tap into their vestigial child, their inner Andy. In that sense, the Toy Story series is their collective autobiography. Like Andy, the Pixarians — from creative director John Lasseter on down — are smart kids who never renounced their childish belief that anything is possible. Why, to make an instant classic like Toy Story 3, it just takes an unfettered imagination, several hundred artists and technicians, about $200 million and four years of nonstop work. Child's play.

In 15 years, the Pixar unit has produced just 11 features. The first 10 — Toy Story; A Bug's Life; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; The Incredibles; Cars; Ratatouille; WALL•E and Up — are not just some of the best computer-animated films but some of the liveliest, brightest, most heartfelt movies of the recent past. That they have earned lots of money ($5.6 billion worldwide) for Pixar and its parent company, Disney, is almost beside the point. Like the earliest Walt Disney fables, Pixar films are for children and their parents and everyone who can be touched by moving images. "We don't make movies for kids," Unkrich says emphatically. "Our mission statement is to make films for everybody." That includes the Motion Picture Academy: Pixar has won five of the nine Oscars for Best Animated Feature and the last three in a row.

Okay, but a third Toy Story, from a studio where nine of the first 10 features were total originals? Lasseter, who directed and co-wrote the first two Toy Story films and who's supervising second episodes of Cars and Monsters, Inc., allows that some people "make sequels as a way of printing money, and they tend to rehash the same idea." He insists Pixar returns to favorite characters because "they are alive in us. We think of them as friends and family. We want to see what new, deeper emotions we can find."

For Toy Story 3's screenwriter Michael Arndt (who won an Oscar for writing Little Miss Sunshine), that meant rethinking each old toy and finding unsuspected human wrinkles. The film's visual style, bracingly clear in its 3-D version, is both state-of-the-CGI-art and faithful to the simple design of the first two films. "I wanted it to look great," says Unkrich, who served as editor on the first Toy Story and co-director on the second. "But it also had to look like Toy Story." What's more potent is the upping of the emotional ante. TS3 puts its characters and the moviegoing children who love them in their severest crisis yet. Not since the early Disney classics have cartoon characters faced so dire a threat with such heroic grace. Lasseter recalls a meeting of the Pixar brain trust for the first reading of the story. "By the end," he says, "I had tears streaming down my face. I looked around the table, and we all had tears."

The Philosophy of Toys

In Toy Story 3, Andy is now a teenager, ready to go to college and wondering what to do with the toys that nurtured him through kidhood but that he hasn't played with for years. Unkrich admits that this is a dilemma he and his colleagues haven't had to face. "Pixar," he says, "is filled with people who don't get rid of their toys."

Lasseter, whose office at the company's Lego-like headquarters in Emeryville, Calif., is crammed with hundreds of gewgaws from his films, is an expert on the secret life of toys. "If something inanimate were to come to life," he posits, "it would want to do what it's been manufactured to do. A toy wants to be played with by a child, to make that child happy. If it's not played with, that causes severe anxieties. If a toy is lost, it can be found. If broken, it can be repaired. The one thing toys are most anxious about is being outgrown, because there's no way that can be fixed."

Andy's toys are a needy bunch. Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks) is the leader and the most loyal among them, in part because he's Andy's favorite. The cloth cowboy suffered a case of battery envy when Buzz (Tim Allen) joined the team in Toy Story and a displacement complex when a toy collector filched him in TS2. But now trauma looms over all his friends: Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex the Dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark) and the rest.

Like many working stiffs, the toys fret about losing their jobs; like adopted children, they fear being sent back. There's a touch of Stockholm syndrome in their dependence on Andy — once their playmate, now their inattentive jailer, their absent God or Godot. With Andy heading off to college, the toys could be relegated to the attic. Or worse, the dump truck.

Hey, guys, come to Sunnyside Day Care! It has kids galore — no toy left behind — and new friends: Ken (Michael Keaton), enthralled to finally find his Barbie (Jodi Benson), and Lotso (Ned Beatty), a folksy stuffed bear with a strawberry scent. If only the 2-year-olds to whom Buzz and the rest are assigned as playthings weren't such violent little beasts. If only Lotso didn't have a hidden agenda. If only the toys from the first two films didn't have to attempt a great escape that leads to ... well, we said the movie is intense. Unkrich calls it "taking toys to their endgame."

The Next Generation

What's a happy end for a toy? Perhaps to be passed on to the next generation of kids. Pixar may be approaching a similar torch-passing. So far, nearly every Pixar feature has been directed by a man who has been with the company since its founding; the only exceptions (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) are the films helmed by Brad Bird, a college friend of Lasseter's who joined a decade ago. Pixar releases just one feature each year, a schedule that has created a talent logjam at the top (Pete Docter waited eight years between Monsters, Inc. and Up) and the risk that gifted, ambitious, younger animators might be lured to another studio.

Now, by chance and design, the kids will get their shot. Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL•E) is away filming John Carter of Mars; Bird, the fourth Mission: Impossible feature. And the studio will release three movies in 2011-12: a sequel to Cars, a film involving the Monsters, Inc. characters and Brave, the first Pixar feature directed by a woman (Brenda Chapman, who also helmed DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt). "With Andrew and Brad off in live action," says Unkrich, "it makes sense that we'd be nurturing the next generation of Pixar."

Yet continuity remains a studio hallmark. John Morris, the child who voiced Andy in the first two films, is back as older Andy. And next year there'll be a short film with the same characters. Some toys — and Toy Storys — are to be treasured forever.

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1 comment:

Free Best Movies said...

It took me a few days to integer out why I was so stilted by the movie. Toy story 3 is really odd and originative, but so are a lot of separate movies. I could see that the chance, including my own two children (16 and 11), were deeply engrossed in the show, happy and weeping, and explosive into commendation unitedly after the closing set. It is rattling rarified today to see a theatre audience having much a wakeless and inferior understanding of something as a set. I had seen this occur many oftentimes in the late, however, so the joint experience (piece real precise) isn't truly what makes the pic so majuscule for me.