Toy Story 3 & Pixar

There’s always some trepidation when you learn of a sequel, regardless of the medium, or the series in question.

The trepidation increases incrementally based on the quality of the previous film(s). When the studio that produces these films happens to have a stunning record and is arguably the most successful film studio ever, and the film in question is Toy Story 3, a continuation of the franchise that built said studio, the trepidation level is at HOLY FUCK, BATMAN, THIS COULD ALL GO HORRIBLY WRONG!

It’s especially prevalent given the record of massive blockbuster and critical successes that Pixar has had and the constant speculation about when and how they will fall off their golden perch. The first Toy Story film made $362 million worldwide. The second went one further and made $485 million. It’s important to note just how much was riding on this film and why it was seemingly an unnecessary, absurd risk to take. But it’s definitely paid off and I’m incredibly glad they did it. In just 10 days, the third installment in this popular franchise has grossed over $326 million. Having said that, its budget was also $110 million more than the second film, at over $200m.

Oh, and it’s a brilliant film and a stunning conclusion overall.

It’s necessary to note that those two could in fact be separate. What I mean to say is that while it may have been a good stand alone, it might not have added anything to the series – in such instances, the move to make the sequel is one dominated by money and lacks a good story. Happily, Toy Story 3 isn’t just a great film in its own right, it complements the series wonderfully, bringing it to a bittersweet but touching conclusion. Ten years on from the last film, it was interesting and rewarding to see that the story had progressed with time, with Andy now 17 and about to go college – it’s this change in dynamics that is the focus of the film with themes of adulthood, friendship, moving on and letting go being predominant.

The toys are a smaller, sadder bunch in general having lost a few of their number to yard sales and the like over the years. They are struggling to regain Andy’s attention but you can see that it is a half-hearted effort, with Woody being both the strongest believer and loudest ideallist as well as conversely being the most pragmatic. He knows privately that everything is changing and that Andy is essentially lost to them and despite revealing as much, it still hits him hardest in the end. I won’t go into too many details, I know there are plenty out there that haven’t seen the film, so I won’t try to ruin it for you.

You know, it’s only in hindsight that I’ve realised just how fantastic Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are. It’s only with age, I feel, that we can truly assess our childhood favourites and great children’s fiction in general. The brilliance of children’s fiction cannot be overstated – it is, in my mind, the most difficult to write and the most sophisticated of all. In the most accomplished cases, you can go back and watch or read the story and learn something new, see something different, find a new joke, no matter your age, your wisdom, your life experience. It’s universal, and yet, so specific. It’s complex and layered, yet simple enough to be consumed by children.

To entertain children today is no mean feat, given their incredibly short attention spans and the current mass media saturation that fuels the insane range of options available to them – and to do so while crafting a unique story with wonderful characters in a compelling narrative that appeals to adults as well, while throwing in some life lessons along the way, is preposterous, to say the least. To do that again and again…and again shouldn’t even be possible.

Which is why I have to pay tribute to this wonderful animation studio that has been at the forefront of imaginative storytelling from the outset. I love what they’re doing and as their record shows, so does the rest of the world. I think what they’ve done for animation is, well, worthy of its own blog surely. There is nothing I despise more than good storytelling and wonderful writing being dismissed because “oh, it’s a cartoon” or “it’s for kids” – no, you’re just a moron and you’re failing to appreciate a whole other world that is incredibly clever, impossibly detailed and filled with endless depths. Animation today is Art. It takes years of painstaking effort to create this moving, rich, flowing art and I can’t think of anything more horrible than to hear people trivialise it – “oh, it’s just for kids,” indeed…

Now, granted, sometimes there are films made that are just a bit of fluff and fun and there’s no harm done there – although I’ll maintain that animation still exists as Art in its own right – but Toy Story, like all great stories, goes above and beyond. (I almost said to infinity there…almost.) The film not only seamlessly ties into the previous installments, it also goes some ways to incorporating a whole range of film genre conventions -while not being cliche but doing them justice in its own right – indeed, there’s enough pop culture references and parodies to make the people over at TV Tropes orgasm.

The level of detail is truly astonishing, especially in all the intricate manoeuvres and action sequences – specifically detailed to include the shortcomings and problems that come with the height and weight of the toys, always done so seamlessly as to never be noticed or lingered on, always involving the objects in the scene before the sequence began – it’s just incredible.

Having said all that, it’s not perfect. There are some flaws. A friend of mine rightly pointed out that it exhibited the typical Hollywood attitude to camp homosexuality via some characters reactions to Ken’s flamboyance. It’s almost blatantly derogatory, in fact, which was surprising. It got some laughs, as intended, but I wondered if it was really necessary, especially Woody’s look of disgust at the end (to the handwriting on the card). I also felt that Pixar overplayed its hand a little, that the sweet moments were almost a little too sweet, the orchestra in the background, the soaring climactic moments…

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was too blatant, but it was certainly uncharacteristic in its heavy handedness, comparatively speaking. No one does emotion better than Pixar and that’s because the folks there know to let the moments speak for themselves. Although, it should be noted that for you to be made to feel and care about a bunch of toys, to this degree, on any level, is a feat in itself.

I’m inclined to let this go because I also feel like, having read about how personal this was to all involved, how it shaped the lives of all the key players at that studio and how it built Pixar from the ground up, that everyone got a little emotional in making this lovely conclusion to the story of Woody, his friends, and their relationship with Andy. One other issue I thought about was one I inadvertently referenced earlier – technology. I did wonder how relevant this was to kids today, given they exist in a world of Xbox’s, PS3’s, Wii’s and Nintendo DS, not to mention the internet. It was touched on in the film a little, with Andy being on his laptop and using his mobile, but probably not enough. I also felt like the short film beforehand, Night & Day, was delightful and ingenious, if a little obvious – as in drop a mountain on your face obvious – in its message.

If you haven’t seen it, folks, you really should. 🙂

You will drown in the nostalgia of it.

June 28, 2010
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  1. 's Avatar
    Fuzzy L. *Likes.* Great post!
    June 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm · Reply

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