Friday, June 18, 2010

Best. Toy Story. Ever.

In 1988, John Lasseter wrote and directed the Pixar short Tin Toy. It was a very crude short film that won an Oscar, as well as the admiration of the animation and filmmaking world. Quickly after the then-revolutionary short was released, Pixar was commissioned by Disney to produce a feature film. Ed Catmull recommended a one-hour TV special to the Mouse instead of a film, but Disney quickly replied that: "If you can make a one-hour special, you can make an hour-and-a-half long picture."

Lasseter was still the big-wig creative at Pixar then (and, some might debate that he still is), and he loved the idea of toys coming to life. So, Pixar set out to turn the short Tin Toy into the world's first CG-animated movie. From this notion, Toy Story was born.

It's been over two decades since Tin Toy debuted, and here we are still enjoying Pixar's anthropomorphic toys. And, let me tell you, we are really enjoying them.

Toy Story 3 is the best film of the Toy Story trilogy. I know that it may be considered bad etiquette to begin a review so blatantly with my straight opinion, but, it's the truth. Toy Story 3 was that good. But, without further ado, if you want to know why it was so good, here's my review (Spoiler Alert!):

Plot Synopsis

Toy Story explodes onto the screen in an epic scene jam-packed with train crashes, explosions, chases, and the familiar "Death by Monkeys" and "forcefield dog." Woody and Mr. Potato Head (er, One-Eyed Bart) have a thrilling fight on top of a speeding train. The tracks running over a bridge explode, and Woody plunges into oblivion. But who is there to save him? Buzz Lightyear of course! The scene continues, getting more and more ridiculous and funny. Then after the over-the-top action sequence that might as well have come out of a Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer picture, we find out that the whole scene is taking place in Andy's imagination. Cue the classic Randy Newman tune "You've Got a Friend in Me" as we get treated to more footage filmed by Andy's Mom of him playing lovingly with his toys.

But, everybody grows up. Once Mr. Newman is done singing and the VHS-quality video fades out, we find out that Andy has grown up and is moving off to college. His mom makes him decide what to do with his old toys, and gives him three options: donate them, put them out for the garbage man, or store them in the attic. Andy decides on the latter for all of his toys except Woody, who's going off to college with him. But after some confusion and excitement, the toys, including Woody, are all sent off to the Sunnyside Daycare Center.

Upon arriving at the new, strange place, Lotso the Strawberry-Scented Bear greets the toys with a big grin and lots of hugs. All of the center's toys are friendly, and the place seems almost heavenly for a toy. Andy's toys are excited that they will finally be played with after so many years. Woody, however, insists that they all have to do their jobs: "be there for Andy when he needs us, no matter what."

Despite his best efforts, Woody has to make his way back to Andy's alone. After an exhilarating scene involving a lot of toy-acrobatics and kite-flying, however, he is found and brought home by a little girl named Bonnie, and is lovingly played with again, just like Andy used to play with him. The other toys in Bonnie's room are very funny, especially the hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants (pictured above), who is a very well-versed thespian.

Meanwhile, the other toys learn that the daycare is not all that it's cracked up to be. They get put in the "Caterpillar Room," which is for the toddlers. And, trust me, being played with by toddlers from a toy's perspective is horrifying, as Buzz, Rex, Hamm, Jessie, and the others quickly find out in a rather darkly humorous scene.

Once the daycare closes and the toys decide they'd much rather be in the pleasant "Butterfly Room" for the older kids, Buzz escapes from the Caterpillar Room to seek out the cheerful leader, Lotso. What he finds, however, is that all of the toys at Sunnyside are being held captive.

Lotso finds Buzz's manual and resets him, turning him into one of the strawberry-scented villain's many henchman. The other toys are all put in cages and given a very stern speech from the new Buzz about "the box"--a scene that is humorously lifted from the classic film Cool Hand Luke. (Click here to see the scene I'm talking about--it's the first minute or so.)

Bonnie's Mom works at Sunnyside, so many of her toys move freely between her house and the daycare (that is, if they can avoid detection). Therefore, Woody quickly finds out what Sunnyside really is: a place of darkness and despair. He gets told the tragic story of Lotso by Chuckles, a depressed clown voiced by Pixar's own Bud Luckey. Lotso, Chuckles, and the Big Baby were all Daisy's favorite toys. One day, Daisy took them to the park but forgot them there. After the trio of toys had waited for weeks and weeks and traveled far to find her again, they discovered that she had replaced them with new toys. "Something snapped inside Lotso that day." They then found Sunnyside, and Lotso slowly gained power, eventually becoming the dictator of the daycare center.

The majority of the rest of the movie is an elaborate, The Great Escape-esque escape sequence that consists of a lot of humor and a bunch of action. The escape ends with Woody, Buzz, Hamm, Rex, the Potato Heads, Slink, Jessie, and Bullseye slowly slipping into the dump's enormous incinerator. Jessie turns to Buzz and asks "What do we do now?" Buzz slowly looks up and takes her hand in his. The rest of the gang follows suit and all join hands, forming a circle of friends as they all slip slowly to their imminent doom. This scene is so intensely emotional, that I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

After the audience has used up all of their Kleenex however, they're gonna need to find some more. Pixar has constructed an emotional one-two punch for the last twenty minutes of Toy Story 3. After the gang escapes the dump and makes it back to Andy's, Woody decides that the best place for them to be is at Bonnie's house; a toy should have a proper owner that knows about playtime. Thus, the final scene is almost equally-emotional, consisting of a seventeen-year-old Andy sitting in the grass, giving all of his toys to the young Bonnie. He fondly introduces each toy, then plays with them for one last time. He drives off to college, leaving Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys we all love to a brand new owner who will love the toys just as much as Andy did, to infinity and beyond.

(End Spoiler Alert!)

Toy Story 3 is a superb film. It combines classic lines for us die hard fans, comedy, romance, action, Hollywood's best animation, and a wonderful score to create something that I still can't believe I saw.

The Story
Storytelling is at the heart of what Pixar does, and should be at the heart of every film. That's why their films just work: they focus on story over everything else. Story is king. And, let me tell you, story is definitely the king of Toy Story 3. From the outset, you are thrown on an emotional journey that you never thought you could have with a bunch of talking toys. How is it that Pixar can tell us all so much about the human heart through simple pixels assembled into some toys? I don't have an answer for you, but I don't think that I want an answer. I'd prefer not to know. But whatever it is, I hope they never change it. Toy Story 3's practically flawless story is such an intensely emotional roller coaster that it is really difficult to convey through words in this single post. You really do have to go out and see it for yourself. You won't be disappointed--I promise.

The Animation
Pixar is the world's best animation studio. While they didn't earn this title by devoting all of their energy to developing new animation techniques, it certainly hasn't stopped them from doing so. Toy Story 3 is gorgeously animated with brand new, well-designed characters, visually-stunning backgrounds and action scenes, and such clarity and flawlessness that it's so obvious how much the technology has advanced since the first Toy Story. I know I said the same thing about Up, but you could take any given frame from Toy Story 3 and have it stand alone as its own true piece of art. The characters and objects really are animated that well.

The Score
I don't have much to say about the score, except for the fact that it successfully heightened every emotion of the movie, which is exactly what a score should do. Randy Newman has done it again! I especially enjoyed the Latin music-inspired score when Buzz was reset to Spanish mode, as well as the new song "We Belong Together." Oh, and the awesome Gipsy Kings cover of "You've Got a Friend in Me" is already my ringtone. It's great. Check out the whole soundtrack at Amazon here.

I grew up with Woody and Buzz and the other toys. I feel like I know each and every one of them like they were my best friends. That may sound geeky, or even creepy, but it's true. That's how powerful films can be if you have creative people like those at Pixar helming them. Many were doubtful that a third film could live up to the first two Toy Stories, but 3's loyalty to the themes of friendship and the fact that everybody grows up gives the movie so much heart that you are forced to look at it as the perfect ending to the world's greatest trilogy of films.

If you loved the first two Toy Story films (and, really, who couldn't?), you will laugh harder, cry harder, and be even more entertained in this final installation when you see the last of Rex, Hamm, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Slink, Buzz, and Sheriff Woody.

I (easily) give Toy Story 3 a 10 out of 10.


HistoryTeacher said...

Lets start with the obvious: Your review is excellent. Your grasp of all things pixar, Disney and, in this case, Toy Story is well documented. Also, I must be very clear that this was a very, very good film. It was a home run.

But your proclamation of 'Best Toy Story ever' shows you have gotten caught in the emotions of the final scene. I must admit that I too found myself teary when Andy had one last go with the gang before handing the familiar toys off to the loveable little girl. But calling this movie better than Toy Story 2 is premature and I believe that you are neglecting or forgetting the genius associated with the second one.

Problem #1: Toy Story 2 set the stage for the predictability of this one. When the bear (Lotsa) rolled up on the scene, we have now been conditioned to not trust the motives of those things that seem huggable and old but in reality have alternate agendas. I was fooled by Stinky Pete. I was unfazed by Lotsa; what with his cane and truck that chauffers him around.

Problem #2: You forget that part 2's explanations of the origins of Woody and Jessie are pure genius. From the 1950's cowboy shows to the records and memorabilia, the score, the television show, and the eventual launch of Sputnik leading to the downfall. . . The genius of 2 was in the historical representation. The use of actual events interwoven with the fictitious Toys was beyond creative. The song Woody's Roundup by Riders in the Sky is a rousing success.

Problem #3: The ultimate escape was almost too much. When the crane scooped the gang up at the last second guided by the alien squeeze toys, it was almost too much even for Toys to do. We have come to expect crazy escapes from toys (think about the remote control car with the rocket strapped to Buzz from part 1). But this was almost too much.

As I said, your report was spot on. But I just had to take issue with your assertion since I took the kids to see the movie today.

Adam said...

HistoryTeacher, thank you very much for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the review.

Now, about your "problems"...

You make some very valid points, and you even made me second guess my assertion of "Best Toy Story Ever", but I choose to stick by it.

I certainly agree that Toy Story 2 is an absolutely ingenious masterpiece, but not as much as TS3 is. Here's why:

Problem #1: I will agree that Lotso as the villain was predictable, but, because of it, was unpredictable. This probably sounds like the ramblings of a crazy person, but stick with me for a second.

Pixar is known to be original with their stories--as stated in my review, it is simply what they do. Plain and simple: we expect original (and therefore unpredictable) stories from Pixar. The most predictable villain, after seeing the previews, was Lotso. We can agree on that. However, I decided that Lotso couldn't be villain simply *because* it was predictable. I know it's not a strong point, but I had numerous debates before seeing TS3 about whether or not Lotso was the villain, and always said that he wasn't.

While we are talking about predictability, I want to make another point. While TS2 was less predictable when it came to the villain, it was more predictable overall. Did you expect Jessie to end up going home with Andy? Probably. Did you have any idea what Andy would end up doing with the toys? Or even what Woody wrote on the sticky note? None at all, I'm guessing.

Problem #2: I'll agree that the historical aspect of the second one was great. It really was. However, the third one was such a natural progression for the trilogy and such a great place to leave the gang, that I think it is still better than the second. Sure, the third doesn't have any historical aspects, except, of course, the awesome vintage ( toys, but I still think that the third was better.

Problem #3: It was not too much! It was so entertaining and suspenseful! I had no idea how they were going to get out of that jam, and, frankly, didn't even care because I was ready to cry. However, they did have the aliens running off as soon as they got to the dump, so, while it isn't possible by any standard, they did set you up for it earlier on.

Like I said, the second was phenomenal, just not as good as the third film.

Thanks again for commenting, HistoryTeacher.

HistoryTeacher said...

Fair enough. You predictability points were good. And true.

For the most part, arguing about which film is better is like pissing in the wind about the Godfather I vs. II or the Empire Strikes Back vs. Revenge of the Sith.

I am always amazed about how Pixar intertwines the real with the imaginative. Sure, there never was a Woody doll but most in my generation have had Mr. Potato Head, Barrel of Monkeys and Army Men (to name a few). They did the same with this one. There was no Lotso but every little girl has had the baby that closes it's eyes when it lays down (complete with the bottle that has the fake milk in it that seemingly disappears when you tip it). And the way they used the rolling phone that literally every kid has had (I can just hear the way it sounds when it rolls as it's eyes move up and down)- genius. I even vaguely recall a reference to Hungry Hungry Hippos at the movie today. I don't know if the game exists today but it did 25 years ago (I can still hear the song from the commercial in my head).

In summation, the story brings the kids to see the movie, but those details are why their parents love to see the show.

moviemom33 said...

I really enjoyed Toy Story 3 and agree that it deserves a 10 out of 10, it was clever, well written and a definite classic! However, I must agree with History Teacher that the ultimate escape scene was too far fetched.

I also have to comment on the end of the film when Andy, a kid on his way to college, spends so much time playing with a five year old. I don't know ANY seventeen year old boy that would have acted that way. It seemed really unrealistic.

We saw the film in 2D, (not big 3D fans) and really enjoyed the vibrant color and the detail. We will go back and see the 3D version now, OF COURSE!

Adam said...

HistoryTeacher, I think it is fair to agree that both films are some of the best ever made--it really doesn't matter which of the two is better.

I definitely agree that Pixar's movies are made much better due to the intense amount of research they do. I'm sure that the animators all sat through hours of salsa dancing lessons and watched toddlers playing with toys for countless hours. And, as both of us have mentioned, the vintage toys added a whole new dimension to the movie, that certainly entertained the adults. In fact, having all of the real toys present makes you believe, if not only for the duration of the film, that Woody and Buzz actually did exist as real toys.

Although I agree that the vintage toys entertain the adults and the cute toys and jokes entertain the kids, I think the ultimate reason that the film was a success and was enjoyed by everyone was its flawless story. That's the unifying feature of all Pixar films that surpasses generations--you don't need gimmicks to make a good movie. All you need is a great story.

LissBirds said...

I really liked your review, and I'm glad I stumbled upon the blog of a fellow Pixar fan. I grew up with these movies! I can't agree with you about it being the best of all the movies. Some critics were saying that when TS2 came out--speculating that it's better than the original, when a decade later, critical consensus seems to be that TS2 did surpass its predecessor.

I'm not sure if TS3 surpassed TS2. I wanted it to, really. The last 20 minutes were off-the-hook emotional, and I was CRYING. More so than I did during Jessie's flashback in TS2. The only thing that bugged me about TS3 was that there really wasn't any character development for either Buzz or Woody. In TS1, Buzz had to face his true identity, and Woody had a slightly-similar (and I think weightier) crisis of mortality in TS2. However, in the third movie, I really didn't see the characters changing or growing. Rather, the character change was punted to Andy. Maybe that's a good thing, I don't know. Maybe we know these characters so well and they've been explored so thoroughly that we don't need to see them change or learn anything new. Maybe. I just thought the heart and soul was missing just a little bit from this movie. (But I liked it anyway.) My mother thinks this was the best of the tree, BTW. I just had some mixed feelings after TS3, when TS2 was a resounding experience of all the storytelling parts fitting together with such perfect clarity.

But to each his own. I see it as the "Return of the Jedi" of the series. Good--but still not as great as "Empire Strikes Back." :)

What also really bugged me was they got rid of Bo Peep!! Who's going to be Woody's better half now?! :(

Hanie said...

Gawd, just reading this makes me all teary eyed again when I remember those scenes from the movie said...

This won't truly have success, I think this way.