The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Toy Story 3
Buzz, Woody, and the others face an uncertain future in Toy Story 3.

The genius of 1995's Toy Story was that it imagined toys as cognizant beings, determined to fulfill their purpose of being played with by children. The genius of Toy Story 2 was the idea that toys can be collected by adults - given stature and value, while not meeting the need for which they were created. The genius of Toy Story 3 is its awareness that children outgrow their toys, and that there is something oddly sad about that. The other week, I came across a phone-shaped rattle that my son clung to incessantly when he was a baby. Now that he's a toddler, the toy holds no real interest for him anymore, especially when his newer toys require greater dexterity, produce noises, and have flashing lights. I felt bad for that rattle for a second, as it sat in the bottom corner of the toy box. Anthropomorphizing toys in real life is, of course, silly. On screen, it's another matter, because the Toy Story pictures have always been about our connection to our own youth, which evolves and changes and eventually fades away.

The toys - led by Woody the Cowboy (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) - are facing the reality that their owner, Andy, is bound for college. They have sat, generally untouched, in his toy box for years, content in the knowledge that they "will be there for Andy" should he ever want them for any reason. Pressured by his mother to clean out the bedroom, Andy sticks the toys in a garbage bag, and starts to haul them into the attic. A mishap occurs, and the toys are mistakenly donated to a local day care instead.

This initially seems like a great turn of events - perpetual play! - but the toddlers at the center are much rougher with the toys than they are used to. There's also a malevolent purple teddy bear named Lotso, voiced by Ned Beatty, who has imposed his own authority over all the toys, keeping the ones he doesn't like trapped in the toddlers' playroom. (The film has all kinds of subtle Cool Hand Luke moments, with Lotso playing Strother Martin to everyone else.) Eventually, Woody decides that they all need to escape and get back to Andy, even if it means an eternity sealed away in the attic.

Toy Story 3 is surprisingly mature for a family film, in that it deals with issues of abandonment and uselessness. What becomes of a toy when there's no one left to play with it? Woody and the gang know that there are really only a few choices: donation to a day care, confinement in an attic or basement, and the local landfill. None of them are particularly appealing. The film doesn't shy away from showing the characters dealing with their looming retirement. They are all trying to come to terms with the fact that their function is gone. The best they can hope for is that someday Andy will pull them out of the attic for his own kids to play with.

Pixar Animation Studios has been the leader in proving that computer-animated family films do not need to be fluff. Last year's Up, in particular, showed that they can have genuine depth, even going so far as to touch on the most uncomfortable of topics, like grief and death. Toy Story 3 doesn't go that far, but it does take the plight of the toys seriously.

I'm not sure how far I want to go with this. A big part of what makes the film work is the ending, and I don't want to give any indication of where it goes (although I will say not to believe those internet rumors of a character death). Director Lee Unkrich, who co-scripted with Finding Nemo's Andrew Stanton and Little Miss Sunshine writer Michael Arndt, finds an end point for this saga that is as poignant and beautiful as it is truthful. Toys are essentially eternal because the possibility exists that someone will come along and want to play with them.

This is another home run for Pixar. The company has a perfect track record: eleven films, eleven winners. Toy Story 3, like the others, is funny, smart, gorgeously animated, and full of heart. It takes skill to pull off a story that goes from making jokes about a Ken doll (voiced by Michael Keaton) who is a clothes-obsessed metrosexual, to exploring the existential crisis of a couple of action figures. But of course, Buzz, Woody, and his pals are much more that that. Our toys are a reflection of who we are and who we were. They are outlets for our childhood hopes, fantasies, and dreams. Toy Story 3 plays on that, making for a perfect conclusion to a perfect movie trilogy.

( out of four)

Note: I saw Toy Story 3 in 3-D, and while it had a nice use (but not overuse) of the effect, nothing about the film substantially benefits from the extra dimension. I firmly believe the movie will play just as well in either the 2-D or the 3-D format.

Toy Story 3 is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.