Pixar’s latest film returns to the well realised characters from their first feature, released way back in 1995. A subset of the cast from the previous two films find themselves neglected by their owner, Andy, desperately trying to regain his attention. We learn that Andy is going to college and must decide what to do with his old toys. Through various mishaps most of the old gang end up at a daycare centre, whereas Woody has a golden ticket to college with Andy. Of course, the daycare centre isn’t the paradise it appears, and Woody is left with some important decisions to make.
You may have heard that this film is a bit of a tear jerker, and your humble reviewer can report that he wasn’t above having a bit of a weep towards the end of the film. It is genuinely affecting seeing characters I loved when I was 14 struggling to live in a world increasingly hostile to them, a family whose circumstances are changing just like the family of Andy. I challenge any adult to not feel at least a little emotional when Andy’s mother sees his newly emptied room, or when the toys stoically face death together after facing a world filled with betrayal.
Pixar’s talent for layered storytelling takes these emotional themes, more at home in a drama, and mixes them with elements that are fun, hilarious and at times a little scary. The film follows a narrative that is easy to follow and keeps the pace up well with nary a slow moment, possibly at the expense of feeling a little rushed. This pacing ends up burying some of the other toys, Bullseye and Slinky Dog seem to be downplayed almost to transparency, and I’m not sure that Bullseye is actually in the conveyor belt scene at all. It would have been nice to see more of the supporting toys from the earlier films, but I suspect that would have dragged down the start of the film unnecessarily. Saying that, the implied loss of some other toys, namely Woddy’s squeeze Bo, impart the theme of the film early and well.
There is also a confusing romantic subplot happening between Jesse and Buzz which, whilst leading to some entertaining scenes, adds little to the story and seems disjoint; especially if your memory of the second film is a bit hazy. I’d have gladly given this up for a bit more screen time for some other characters. The last real issue with the film is that it might be a bit scary for younger kids, I heard one child remarking that they were scared and I’m fairly sure another left the cinema. Although the level of threat is fairly high, it’s not opressive. The film is a U rather than a Uc and seems secure in the knowledge that kids don’t want an boring happy romp. I for one have much fonder memories of childhood films with a high level of antagonism.
Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voice the protagonistic couple, Hanks has the lion’s share of the work but Allen puts in a great performance and managed to make me forget I was listening to the ‘star’ of Home Improvement. Other characters are well rounded where they are allowed to be. The perennially quixotic Joan Cusack puts in a great performance as Jesse, being both abrasive and endearing at the same time, but not given enough space to really shine. Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) have some good scenes together as well, and are the most active of the supporting toys.
New additions Ken (voiced excellently by Michael Keaton) is the comedic star, providing a lot of the laughs during the middle stretch of the film. Casting Keaton here was stroke of genius, you can almost see the first movie Batman’s face in Ken if you squint hard enough. Ned Beatty as antagonist Lotso never seems to really get to grips with the character though, by turns outraged and friendly he doesn’t come off as the mastermind he’s supposed to be, more two personalities inhabiting the same character.
A quick note on 3D. I tend to avoid it wherever possible, I find it distracting and blurry, but for Toy Story 3 it’s worth investing in the Elvis Costello glasses. If it wasn’t for the fuzziness in near objects I could have completely forgotten the film was in 3D, but Night & Day however, the short before the main feature, uses the 3D effect in a genuinely interesting way and is well worth seeing.
All in all, I adored Toy Story 3. The continuing theme of obsolescence carried through the series from the first film comes to a head, and leaves you with a bittersweet ending to the character’s stories. This is possibly Pixar’s best film to date and the best film I’ve seen this year. Go to see it now, take the kids, friends and a tissue. You won’t be disappointed that you did.
+10 on the Rjandberg-Smythe scale