Sunday, June 20, 2010


A few thoughts on Toy Story 3:

1) Yes, like I suspect every adult who sees this, I cried.  This is certainly a wonderful movie for kids, but the final scene--in which our non-human protagonists realize they must move on to a new point in their lives, and a major human character discovers how far he's grown since childhood, and how he misses it--can really only resonate with people who have lived their lives, suffered loss, made plans that didn't quite work out.

And yes, this scene is extremely sentimental, and perhaps overplays its hand just slightly.  But you know what?  It earns the right to its sentiment.  We've known and loved these characters so long, they have more than earned the right to makes us cry as much as they've made us laugh.

2) And we do love these characters, don't we?  They're smart, they're funny, they're childish and silly and cranky and sad.  Unlike the protagonists of so many movies these days, we want to spend time with Woody, Buzz, Rex and all the rest.  As characters, they're made out of plastic, and they're created out of numbers and zeroes, and yet they seem more real than all the Robert Pattinsons or Megan Foxes of the world.

3) Compared to more recent Pixar efforts, particularly Brad Bird's two films for the studio, Toy Story 3 is a little bit generic.  Wall-E director Andrew Stanton and Up director Pete Docter are both long-term Pixar hands, but there is a genuinely unique sensibility in their films, a filmmaker's voice, that is largely absent here.  This isn't to knock what Lee Unkrich has done with the film.  It's solid, professional work, and the third movie in a series doesn't really allow for much personal expression, anyway.  It feels almost like a throwback to the old studio days, when all the departments functioned so well even a non-auteur like Michael Curtiz could knock out a masterpiece or two.

(Incidentally, I was originally going to compare Pixar to the Arthur Freed unit at MGM, suggesting Bird as the equivalent of the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen duo, Docter as Vincente Minnelli and Stanton as Charles Walters, but the whole thing fell apart because I couldn't figure out a counterpart for Unkrich.  George Sidney, maybe?  No, that wouldn't work.  Also, Docter-as-Minnelli doesn't entirely make sense, either, but since I'm possibly the only human being on earth who thought of Yolanda And the Thief while watching Up...Ah, forget it.)

4) The opening sequence of Toy Story 3, a frantic action sequence that brings all the characters together in a scenario involving a runaway train, a speeding sports car, an atomic blast and an alien spaceship, is meant to conjure the hyperactive playtime of a seven-year-old boy.  It also feels like every overly-caffeineited Hollywood action movie.  The resemblance is, obviously, intentional, and possibly the best joke in the film.

5) But will any studio executives get the joke?  More to the point, will they look at the huge success of this film, easily dominating a summer full of flops, and realize that if they make a movie that's well-written, well-made, and stuffed full of things that people actually, you know, enjoy, maybe audiences will respond?