Monday, June 21, 2010

The Bittersweet End of a Toy Story

| by Allan Stackhouse |

Being at an age when I still collected toys during the first film's release, Toy Story will always hold a special place in my heart. My excitement over seeing another adventure with Woody, Buzz, and the gang was one that I had to keep in check for the decade since Toy Story 2's November 1999 release. Pixar has delighted the masses with a slew of amazing original projects but my 12 and 27 year old selves both agree that we needed to find out what happens to Andy's toys. Welcome as original characters such as WALL·E, Remy, and Nemo are, the idea of another Toy Story film was like going home for the holidays. Toy Story 3's innovative elements characteristic of Pixar made it a highly enjoyable experience.

One thing I greatly appreciated about Toy Story 3 was the prominence of strong female characters. Barbie, Jessie, and Mrs. Potato Head each performed in many empowering moments throughout the film. The first and one of the funniest examples was ninja pirate Mrs. Potato Head attacking Woody in Andy's imaginary play sequence. The girls really rallied to be part of the team which was a welcome change to Bo Peep's solely supportive character (even though I did miss her). Placing the weight of saving one of the characters could have easily been given to Woody but the weight is placed on Barbie and she rises to the challenge. Her character breaks away from years of stereotypes and shows a more intelligent side of Barbie. While there's nothing wrong with occupying oneself with fairy business as in Barbie: Fairytopia, the secret agent role she takes on was a wonderful change for her character.

Having an effeminate character was also a huge but welcome surprise from Pixar. From the trailer, Ken seemed to have a lady's man quality yet that could not be further from the case in the film. One scene that had the theater uproarious with laughter was when Barbie, in Ken's astronaut uniform, successfully procures Buzz's instruction manual from Bookworm, the librarian. Bookworm's completely unsurprised reaction to Ken (Barbie in disguise) walking away in high heels was hilarious and left me with my mouth open in surprise. I would venture to say that Pixar chose to be very progressive with Ken's depiction and inclusion in the film as an effeminate toy. This could have been written years and years ago but I would venture to say that it may have been because of Hiyao Miyazaki's overly obvious social commentary on the wasteful habits of humans in 2008's Ponyo.

Pixar 100% took the imagery and sequences to the next level. I recall 2's conveyor belt scene being intricate but the variance in landscape and color at Sunnyside was nothing in comparison to the waste facility. The billions of pieces of garbage all moving on the way to the shredder was absolutely breathtaking. The dark colors and speed of the belt illustrated a sense of danger beyond just the upcoming grinder. What threw it over the top for me was the incineration sequence. This was the absolute peak of strong visuals and emotion of the film. Having been betrayed, once again by Lotso, the gang is on their way down to an inferno whose hot emanating light captures the toys color. Their eventual resignation to the situation combined with a fiery orange contrasted with gray garbage is one that I could watch over and over. The violence of the actions that occur at this waste facility are also quite telling of Pixar's stance on waste.

The only problem I had with the film is the story. Everything else was at Pixar's usual finest. Storywise, I was absolutely overjoyed that the film steered away from the mortality theme that made Toy Story 2 a depressing experience. The problem I had with the film lies in the second act. While the movie started strongly with an exciting chase sequence and ended with an extremely heightened sense of emotion, I felt that the second act had overly predictable action. Instead of developing characters or the story, it was basically a 30 - 40 minute coast to the very exciting end. Even though the setting of a daycare center was made apparent at the movie's trailer leak, the setting felt very restrictive and not as fluid as with other Pixar films. Instead of Andy's family constantly putting the toys in a humorous state of panic or a trash grinder putting everyone at death's door, the action of having the toys trapped would obviously lead them to escaping. This, for me, did not add enough dramatic weight and served only as a bridge to the reunion with Andy.

With color and sound, Pixar once again masterfully conveys the emotions and tones of the story. At first sight, the Sunnyside daycare looks like a warm and inviting place that is somehow familiar to all of us. The developments in Pixar's lighting of the characters has also come a long way in 11 years. Moments of the film made me stop paying attention just to admire the brilliant lighting, something I've never done in any of the previous films. The vocal talent was at its best, as usual. Ned Beatty's Lots-O'-Huggin Bear was so evil that I could taste hatred in my mouth every time he spoke. Tom Hanks completely outdid himself, once again, as Woody. Instead of incredulously denying Buzz into the group, I could feel the desperation and conflict Woody had in all of his lines.

As a side note, my friend and I saw the film on IMAX 3D. This was my first experience watching a Pixar feature on 3D and I have to say that I did not find the experience particularly immersive at all. If anything, the process took me out of the movie, having to remove my glasses at a few points during the film. Perhaps this is just a matter of preference but I would sooner not pay the extra $7 or $8 to see a movie.

At the end, the action took over the majority of the story which Pixar is renowned for. As far as being a grandiose elegant film, I deem Toy Story 3, despite a weak second act, to be a great film that holds up with the rest. For capping the trilogy, Toy Story 3 did its job. I wholeheartedly miss these characters already and cannot wait to reunite with them when I watch the movies again or go to Disneyland.

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