Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2010

Not just child's play

'Toy Story 3' offers a warm goodbye to the characters that made the Pixar name

Toy Story 3
Walt Disney Studios
Director: Lee Unkrich
Screenplay: Michael Arndt
Starring: The voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Estelle Harris, Timothy Dalton and John Morris
Rated G / 1 hour, 43 minutes
(out of four)

When a film property officially becomes a marketable franchise, patience is a rare virtue, but it can pay off in spades. In the blockbuster era (post-1977), amid all the direct sequels rushed into production prematurely, which ones stand out? (And no, Lord of the Rings doesn't count - that was one long, extended project.)

Cameron's Terminator 2 and Aliens come to mind - both released seven years after their predecessors. I can't help but think of the way Warner Bros. has allowed Christopher Nolan to work on other films in between Batman entries. Similarly, Spielberg had time to complete multiple projects between his first three Indiana Jones films.

But too often, studios would rather ride their properties into the ground than actually nurture them.

Fortunately, we can officially add Toy Story to the list of franchises that have gotten it done the right way - and have been worth the wait. (Though even this series isn't immune. Remember, Toy Story 2 was initially conceived by Disney as a direct-to-video sequel - read: cash grab - before Lasseter and Co. rescued it and propelled it in the right direction. But I digress.)

In the 11 years since we last saw Woody, Buzz and Co., Pixar's artistry has grown exponentially and animated cinema as a whole has become more sophisticated. Yet there is an undeniable charm in seeing the same now-retro visual style in Toy Story 3 that we saw during the first two outings. And that's not the only thing that reminds us of the parts I and II. In fact, the movie's biggest fault is a rather common one among long-running series (both in TV and movies) - the callback syndrome. TS3 spends much of its early time trying to remind us of the other two films, as if we'd forgotten them or somehow needed an extra jolt of familiarity. ("Hey, it's Rex! I totally forgot about that guy!")

The film's opening sequences are full of nostalgic callbacks as the filmmakers try to maneuver their way into a storyline, re-acquainting us with our favorite cowboys, spacemen, piggy banks and Slinkys, as well as the now-17-year-old Andy (voiced by John Morris), who has long since put away childish things.

But Toy Story 3 doesn't really get off the ground until it finds its own aesthetic somewhere around the half-hour mark. At that point, our characters find themselves at Sunnyside Daycare Center, having been quite accidentally donated. Feeling betrayed by Andy, they welcome their new home - most importantly, because they're greeted so warmly and cordially by the daycare toys' all-too-charming elder, Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty).

Now, anyone who's seen enough movies will recognize Lotso for what he is right away. We've seen this guy before - the smooth-talking patriarch constantly flashing that patented Southern charm. You can imagine him sipping on an iced tea and leaning back in his rocking chair. If this were live action, he'd be played by Burl Ives or Strother Martin or Charles Durning - or, for that matter, Beatty himself. The Lotso character is one of the film's best features - a delightfully self-conscious signal toward the direction the story is taking.

Indeed it takes exactly that direction, shifting from fish-out-of-water dramedy to prison break/espionage flick. And it's a perfect fit. The wit of the film's satirical and cosmetic stylings - which we've seen used so perfectly in other recent Pixar films - is arguably more impressive than even what we saw in the first two films. My favorite example recalls a moment from the 1995 original - Mr. Potato Head's "Look! I'm a Picasso!" line. This time around, that gets taken almost literally in a sequence in which a disembodied Potato Head (voiced by Don Rickles) has to, shall we say, take a slightly distorted form. It is the best scene of any Toy Story movie.

While it could be argued that Toy Story 3 suffers a bit from its own sense of nostalgia, at the same time, that nostalgia is only fitting considering the film's emotional undercurrent. Andy, our human proxy for the length of the series, has moved on from the toys that meant so much to him such a short time ago. He's on his way to college; he has more use for laptops and video games than for anything with a pull string. And yet, those childhood memories pull at his own strings nonetheless. Pixar, too, has gone on to bigger and better things since its original Toy Story days - WALL-E, Up, The Incredibles and Ratatouille chief among them. But these characters remain with them, and with us - and TS3 provides us all with a loving coda to a story that began when computer animation was still in its infancy, and a fitting remembrance of things past.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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