MaCguffin Film Review – Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 – A Review

Those lovable characters from the smash hit films Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999) have returned to the Pixar forefront in the highly anticipated Toy Story 3.  Once again, we are reunited with the likes of the lanky cowboy, Woody (Tom Hanks), his intergalactic friend-in-need Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), as well as cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex the nebbish T-Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles/Estelle Harris), and many others.  Coming in to the film, I have to admit I had my reservations: would the film live up to the standards that were set in the first two?  The first Toy Story was an instant classic growing up as a kid, and the second one just reinforced my admiration for the franchise.  “Part 3’s” have traditionally been terrible films, and with director John Lasseter not taking the helm this time, this installment had a lot of obstacles to overcome.  So did it?  Let’s find out.

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS BELOW

Andy, the young kid of the first two films, is now 17 years old in Toy Story 3.  Packing and readying himself to leave for college, Andy has to make a decision on what to do with his now rarely played with toys.  In a case of a misunderstanding worthy of a primetime sitcom, the toys find themselves shipped off to Sunnyside Daycare, where a host of other toys, including a towering baby-doll, an old toy phone, and a Ken doll (Michael Keaton) await them.  The Ken doll was a funny character in his obvious flamboyantness; although he was written to be madly in love with Barbie (Jodi Benson), the fact that he had a closet containing more sparkly clothes than Elton John and wrote letters with a bright pink marker were evidence to the contrary.  Maybe I’m judging him too quickly; perhaps he just likes playing dress up and decorating his dream home, but whatever.

The leader of the daycare toys is a large, stuffed teddy bear by the name of Lotso (Ned Beatty).  With his rotund shape, strawberry scent, and wooden cane in hand, Lotso was a character that one could easily fall in love with, as many characters in the film, plastic or human, do.  But looking closer, with his large head filling much of the frame, and the bright color of his fur immediately drawing attention to himself, Lotso can be, at the same time, very intimidating.  This is seen from the very moment that Lotso is introduced, while being carried to one place and another by a toy truck.  To say that Lotso’s intentions are more than what they seem is a statement of the obvious.

Through a series of events, Andy’s toys find themselves in the main conflict of the film: needing to escape the daycare and return to Andy before he leaves to college.  This is easier said than done.  With all the doors being locked, a camera system monitoring everything in sight, and an eight-foot tall wall circling the compound, the daycare seemed to be more like a penitentiary than a place where kids go to have fun.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Great Escape (1963) while watching the toys sneak around corners, signal to each other when to move, and avoiding the searchlight at all costs.  The icing on the cake would’ve been to see Woody drop everything and try to jump the wall using a motorcycle; that would’ve been awesome.

If there’s one thing this movie has going for it, is that it has some very funny moments.  From Ken putting on a fashion show for Barbie to the introduction of Andy’s now old and fat dog, there were a number of humorous scenes throughout the film.  One really funny scene came when Mr. Potatohead, devoid of his body but still possessing all of his removable parts, uses a piece of wobbly flatbread as a body replacement.  The funniest segment came when Buzz, having recently been switched to his Spanish-speaking mode, attempts to seduce Jessie with a hot Latin dance.  I laughed out loud watching an intergalactic spaceman shake his hips to-and-fro, confident in his belief to win the cowgirl over.  Many of the scenes are inventive in the way each toy uses their own strengths to help the rest overcome their obstacles, such as Slinky using his length to reach a certain distance, or Mrs. Potatohead using her removable eye to check around corners, all of these examples show off the importance each character has being a part of what they call their “family.”

Despite all these factors going for the film, it is however, not without its flaws.  One major flaw of the film is that it is simply a third in a series, and with that it loses its “awe” factor that the other two (especially the first one) had.  Many of the themes dealt with in this movie were already factors previously, such as the toys feeling neglected by their owner and wanting to be played with.  Therefore the emotional impact is not as strong, the moments that were supposed to be the most heartfelt and moving felt repeated, there’s even a flashback scene here that is reminiscent of the Jessie flashback of the second movie.  For some odd reason, the movie felt much smaller in scale than compared to the first two.  Only a small handful of familiar characters return, and about 80-85% of the film takes place in the daycare; it seems the world these characters inhabit has been restricted to just a few small locations.  Also, while being targeted to children, the film was surprisingly talky.  There is a LOT of dialogue spoken throughout the course of the movie, some in a foreign language, requiring subtitles.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact many adults would probably appreciate the dialogue, although I wonder how kids would be able to handle it in a post-MTV, quick-cut-editing era.  Lastly, the climax of the film was a tad too terrifying in my mind, involving the toys trying to escape a garbage incinerator, but in a film like this, how much danger are the toys really in?

Quibbles aside, I still feel Toy Story 3 is a highly enjoyable and fun ride.  Less of a heart-warming tale and more a straight-out slapstick comedy, it’s probably one of the best “Part 3s”of any movie series out there.  All the returning characters still have the spark and charisma that made them so lovable when we were first introduced to them years ago.  Not in the same league as Pixar’s previous efforts, such as Wall-E (2008) or Up (2009), it still solidifies the notion that this production company is at the forefront of modern animation.  I am excited and look forward to what they can come up with next.

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