I could never bear to give my stuffed animals away. They were a huge part of my childhood, and the thought of letting them go forever seemed so horrifying. Society expects you to give up on little dolls and stuff as you become an adult, and I honestly think that’s kind of bogus. I mean am I really supposed to stop playing with these plush friends of mine because society expects that of me? Am I supposed to permanently kill off the childlike wonder inside of me so that I look normal and hopelessly embittered like everybody else? Doesn’t that seem a bit cruel?
In the end, I didn’t need to give my prized stuffed animals away… They got eviscerated by a hideous rat that ended up tearing away at them while they sat in a trash bag in the family garage. The rat wanted their stuffing, and he (or she) left behind a lot of rat poop which had to be disposed of carefully because it spreads disease. However, all Eeyores that I have collected over the years were fine though as they had gotten preferential treatment ever since I got my first one.
It was pretty much inevitable that these cuddly friends of mine would never have the same amount of attention as the years went by. The dilemma of what to do with these things we grew up with brings about strong emotions and uncertainty, and that is what Andy faces in the latest Pixar animated extravaganza “Toy Story 3.” Coming a good 11 years after its predecessor, young Andy who had given a home and much love to these toys is now a young adult about to head off to college. His mother tells him that he can either donate his toys to a nearby daycare center, or they can just go up in the attic. Despite the fact that Andy has clearly not played with them in years, he is reluctant to let them go.
The majority of the toys from the first two “Toy Story” movies are back including Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Rex, Slinky Dog, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Bullseye, and Hamm who has always been one of my favorites. Many however have since been donated or thrown out including Woody’s girl, Little Bo Peep. So while Andy clearly has favorites among the toys he grew up with, that doesn’t make them feel anymore safe now that he is leaving home.
Andy’s favorite toy Woody (perfectly voiced as always by Tom Hanks) tries to keep the other toys’ spirits up reminding them that they knew this day was going to come, and that they might as well make the best of things while preparing for attic mode. However, a snafu occurs where they end up getting donated to the nearby Sunnyside Daycare Center. At first, the toys don’t feel all that bad because they are back in a position where they get to played with on a regular basis. But despite the warm welcome from other toys, it quickly becomes their worst nightmare as they deal with kids who are really not old enough to take care of them. Instead of treating them with love, they get flung all over the place like they were Frisbees, painted on, and contorted into positions that if we saw a human being in one of them, we would cringe uncontrollably. Remember that scene from Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” where one of Richard Dreyfuss’ children is smashing this baby doll to smithereens? Jessie, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and others get it just as bad.
Now the third movie in a franchise is where a series ends up going off the rails or “jumps the shark” as some would say. After bringing something fresh and original to audiences everywhere, filmmakers end up relying on formula and seemingly duplicated moments which made the previous two so good. As a result, number three can come across as a regurgitation of our favorite moments which can ring hollow because even if they presented in a slightly different context, it’s still the same old thing. The realization of this is always disheartening and depressing.
I’ve got good news though; “Toy Story 3” manages to escape that unfortunate jinx and it is just as inventive, just as imaginative, just as funny and just as heartwarming as its brilliantly made predecessors. Once again, Pixar shows that they are not willing to rest on their laurels, and they keep their focus on the story as always. In retrospect, it’s really a miracle that this particular sequel got made at all. Michael Eisner was prepared to do a sequel without Pixar back when things got really tense between them, and that would have been a horrific mistake.
When I was young (and even today occasionally) I always loved to believe that my stuffed animals had lives of their own and did things I was never a witness to. I could see them taking out the Chevy Suburban my family used to have while the rest of us were asleep at night. To think that they would be comfortable for the rest of their existence didn’t seem particularly fair, and they deserved a night on town and a few beers. The car would always end up back at home in one piece of course. The great fun about all the “Toy Story” movies is that they understand how far our imaginations can go with this belief, and they play upon it in ways that are endlessly hilarious and entertaining. We love to think that our toys do more than just sit around all day waiting for us to play with them.
Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, and the always dependable Pixar regular John Ratzenberger among others are back voicing their beloved characters. Slinky Dog, originally played by the late Jim Varney, is voiced here instead by Blake Clark, and he makes the transition almost perfectly seamless. The thought of losing characters like him would have been unfortunate, and this is in all due respect to the great work Varney did. Ernest would be proud…
We also get to see Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson) with her biggest role in any of the “Toy Story” movies yet as she finally gets to meet the man of her dreams, Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton of all people). Director Lee Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt have a lot of fun playing around with the Ken we think we know, and they love hinting at the kind of person we think he might be. It’s funny to think that Mattel didn’t want anyone touching Barbie when the first of the series came out, and now they share in the franchise’s extraordinary success.
One of the prominent new characters in “Toy Story 3” is a strawberry scented bear named Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, but he’s called Lotso for short. Pixar always makes ingenious casting decisions in regards to the actors they pick, and casting Ned Beatty as the voice of Lotso is further proof of that. This cuddly and stain resistant teddy bear looks warm and affectionate, and Beatty’s voice makes us feel at home when Lotso first appears onscreen. But soon Lotso turns out to be a deceptive toy who thinks nothing of sacrificing the stronger toys to toddlers unaware of how destructive their playing with them is. All of what Lotso does here is powered by his feeling of resentment over being forgotten and quickly replaced by his owner. Now he manipulates the daycare center so that he can live in comfort while the rest suffers helplessly.
In terms of movies this Pixar movie satirizes, it combines elements of “The Great Escape” as well as “Mission: Impossible” in how challenging it will be for Woody and the gang to break out of Sunnyside. All the various descriptions of how closely guarded like a fortress this seemingly harmless place is leads to one brilliant moment after another. There are too many great ones during the escape to spoil here, so I don’t even want to try. The one toy that gets chosen to watch over all the surveillance cameras is an act of genius.
Now if you have already seen the trailer, you know one of the other big set pieces in “Toy Story 3” comes when Buzz Lightyear gets reset and goes into Spanish speaking mode. Seeing him woo Jessie with his smoldering dance moves as though he were Ricky Martin or Antonio Banderas had everyone in the audience young and old laughing uncontrollably. I also want to add that the Gypsy Kings perform a very cool cover of Randy Newman’s song from the original, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” That song alone makes me want to buy the soundtrack.
And yes, Randy Newman is finally back doing the music score for a Pixar movie for the first time since “Monsters, Inc.” Once again, he captures the innocence of childhood and the exciting world the toys inhabit while also capturing the bittersweet emotions that bring this movie to quite the emotional close.
Of all the “Toy Story” movies, this is easily the darkest as we see these toys get subjected to places in which they realistically should not be coming out of unscathed. Plus, these toys are at the endgame stage in that they will soon part with Andy in one way or another. The ending of this one will almost certainly bring tears to the eyes of many as Andy talks to a shy little girl about his toys and Woody in particular. We’ve all grown up with these characters since the early 90’s, so we cannot feel like Andy in how we end up leaving certain things behind even if it breaks one’s heart.
“Toy Story 3” does what any and every Pixar movie does best; it entertains and enthralls the audience no matter what age they are or where they come from. With this tremendous sequel, Pixar has completed another trilogy that will stand as one of the best in cinematic history along with the Jason Bourne movies as well as “The Lord of the Rings.” Pixar comes around full circle with the latest adventures of Woody and Buzz, the characters who started it all for this animation company, and they continue to push creative boundaries with all that they do. Their enviable track record both creatively and financially is more than deserved. More power to them!
The Summer 2010 movie season has so far felt kind of blah despite some fun movies, and it suddenly doesn’t feel like there is much to look forward to. But “Toy Story 3” delivers the kind of grand entertainment that most of the time feels like is in very short supply, and it is one of the best movie of the year.
I also want to assure you that when the movie is over, you will know what a Lincoln log looks like and what it doesn’t look like. Knowing the difference is important if you want to keep yourself from gagging!
**** out of ****
The Pixar Movies To Date: From “Toy Story” to “Up”