The original Toy Story was a landmark in animated films. It was well written, very funny, charming and witty and still holds up today. It was also highly rewatchable.
Toy Story 2 arrived a few years later in 1999, it was Pixar’s first sequel. It was also if anything better than the original, funnier, better plotted and far more aware of the lead characters and how they might react in any given situation. It was also highly rewatchable.
Why do I keep on with the rewatchable bit? Because even before I had a kid I owned both on DVD and had watched them both many times, now of course I have a 3 1/2 year old who last year discovered Buzz and Woody for himself, so it is no exaggeration to state that I have watched Toy Story and Toy Story 2 four+ times each in 2010 so far. I also went to see the first one in the cinema aged 20 odd and with no kids in tow, then in 99 saw Toy Story 2 with my now-wife, still have the promotional coke cup too, keep my pencils in it!
Name another reviewer so dedicated to his craft. You can’t!
You might have seen in the press if you looked carefully that another sequel has just come out. They’ve kept it a bit low-key but keen eyes would notice.
So for the last few months since I knew Toy Story 3 was coming I dangled the carrot, “if you’re a good boy we’ll go and see Buzz and Woody on the BIG TV at the movies”. Two months of pretty good behavior later here it is. My initial impression that will no doubt be validated (or amended) around Christmas once the DVD has been purchased and I have seen it a couple more times: 3 is better than 1 but still a-ways behind 2.
Those reviewers that had already penned half their review before seeing the film based upon studio notes and internet snippets jumped the gun I think. They seem to have already put together a glowing review and once they saw the film and realised it was actually quite good for some reason they went and added another star or pumped the film up some more before releasing it.
As much as I love this trilogy anyone saying that Toy Story 3 in isolation is one of the best films of all time is a bit ahead of themselves. (Similarly anyone saying this is no good is an idiot seeking publicity!)
It is a great film though, and worth seeing in the cinema, kids or not.
Like Toy Story 2 the film’s opening sequence involves a certain degree of imagination. Don’t worry Pixar don’t expect you to pay for tickets and popcorn AND think, so the imagining is done by a young Andy, the same boy from the first 2 films, (and from what I’ve read the same voice actor for all three films, even though he is now in his 20s. That’s the thing about Pixar, the little things count).We get a 5 minute refresher on the key characters from the first two films and their various attributes and personality traits, at least as seen by a young boy. In truth I could watch 90 minutes of dream sequences as long as Pixar put them together, it is a pretty awesome 5 minutes.
But alas there is a movie to screen so back to the present day… Buzz, Woody, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog, the aliens (“whhoooohhhh)” and Mr & Mrs Potato Head (hyphenated?) are the sole survivors from Andy’ childhood, the rest of the gang being gifted to charity, lost or visiting the great toy farm in the sky, even Bo Peep and her sheep have gotten the flick. Andy is now heading off to college, and his Mother has given him the ultimatum: Take it to college, storage in the attic, give it up for donation… or bag it for the trash. Despite the fact that he has not played with the gang in years (and don’t they know it) Andy can’t bring himself to turf his beloved playthings. So even if they no longer serve a purpose he earmarks them for the attic. It ain’t much, but at least it doesn’t involve compacting and incineration… and the trash-juice gets in your socks and stinks… ewwww gross! Woody is set aside for college, perhaps with the thought procvess that showing sensitivity might drag in the chicks?
That would seem simple enough, only due to a misunderstanding the toys end up on the verge awaiting the rubbish truck. After a near escape (get used to that) they express their disapproval, even though Woody claims to have seen the whole thing as an unfortunate mistake. The gang decide to take their chances with the donation box and Woody is inadvertantly knocked in for the ride.
Now at Sunnyside Daycare, a bright and colourful place abuzz with the sounds of children. The toys are released from the box to take in all around them as the kids are outdoors at recess, all seems extremely promising. An introduction to the incumbent group of toys only further excites the gang, especially Jessie who years to play and be played with for the first time in a long time. The apparent Father figure is a large pink soft toy bear named Lotso, as in Lotso-hugs, who has a great warm voice and walks with a cane when he isn’t chaufferred by a Tonka truck. The group “pitch man” is Ken (Michael Keaton), a smooth Ladies-Man who probably isn’t, if you know what I mean. His slick intro to Sunnyside Daycare’s charms and pluses immediately wins over Barbie, who was thrown into the donations box by Andy’s Mum. Barbie and Ken head off to his Dream House, and once the initial introductions and walkthroughs are over Lotso and his few sidekicks head back to the main room leaving Buzz, Woody and others in another room.
During the time between the house and daycare Woody has thought his situation through and has decided if Andy wants him at college then that is where he must be, as soon as Lotso leaves he has an emotional goodbye with everyone those that have been his friends for so long, and makes a daring escape “over the wall”.
The room that Buzz and amigos find themselves in is the Baby’s room. Once recess is over dozens of tottering drool machines rush back into the room to bludgeon the toys into submission in the cool, calm and delirious way that only one and two year old kids can manage. This is especially disastrous for the Potato-Heads and their detachable parts, and for Slinky whose spring is twisted this way and that. A the close of the day the toys regather to compare injuries and to clean themselves up, this was most certainly not in the brochure. Buzz comes to realise that they have been set up, and that perhaps other parties in Sunnyside Daycare see them as nothing more than fodder for the little savages, a buffer between the 2 foot terrors and them.
Meanwhile Woody finds himself in the home of a young girl named Bonnie who picked him up from outside the Daycare centre after his escape. Bonnie is a little older and a far more accommodating playmate, and Woody and Bonnie’s existing toys share a great afternoon of fun. Even so, Woody tells his new temporary chums that he must go to be with Andy, and they go about helping Woody on his journey. During the farewell stages though Woody learns from a survivor of the peril that Buzz and tha gang now find themselves in, and Woody must decide whether to continue home to be with Andy, or to head back into near-certain death to save his friends.
And if you don’t know what he will choose then you’ve never seen a Pixar movie!
The final third of the film is basically an escape film, enemies become friends and friends become enemies, and the Daycare centre looks an awful lot like a prison camp by night, complete with lights towers and sentries. One other thing must be said, the giant (by comparison to the rest of the toys) doll that acts as Lotso’ go-fer early on, looks a little disconcerting in the early scenes, and frankly serial-killeresque by night. (I once had a client who collected dolls and kept them all in one big room, when I visited once they plonked me in the room for 5 minutes while they prepped their office and I just sat there while hundreds of empty eyes bored holes in me, some of the creepiest minutes of my life.)
There are some funny scenes with Mr Potato Head going somewhat “nude” to help with the escape, and Buzz has his factory defaults reset so as to be less of a free thinking threat to the naughty toys. My wife also thought that the interactions between Ken and Barbie were pretty funny, but she’s a chick, she’s supposed to think that. The little touches abound in this film, things that appear inconsequential early on suddenly have a purpose later on, and the attention to detail in the day care centre is amazing, although 97% of that will be unnoticed by the sub 10s.
From here on out it is “near miss”, “escape”, “flee”, “near miss”, “escape”, etc, but done in a very entertaining and suspenseful way. So suspenseful that very near the end when it seems that once again the toys are in peril and that they can’t possibly escape this one the boy turned to me and said “I wanna go home now please”. Thankfully two minutes later all was OK and we stayed.
The film (and trilogy) wrap up very well for all involved, and in a way that suggests that the toys are now in a far better place. Even Andy gets closure for himself and his childhood. Even though Buzz and Woody and the gang are now well into their teens themselves all they want to do is be played with and matter to someone;
And to at least two generations (and counting) that last bit couldn’t be more true, especially in this house.
To get a more enlightened opinion of the movie from the target demographic I asked my son what he thought of the new Buzz and Woody.
“There was a rubbish truck.”
There sure was. (Don’t ask him who the bad guy was, you’ll get spoilers galore!)