Director: Lee Unkrich (Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo)
Screenplay: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Producer: Darla K. Anderson
Starring (voices): Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris
MPAA Rating: G
Running time: 103 min.
The summer movie going season of 2010 is finally starting to get back on track. Thanks mostly to Pixar’s newest, but oldest friend, the Toy Story franchise. Almost the entire crew is back (sans Jim Varney, God bless his soul) voicing the now staple characters of American pop culture and it’s as fun as always… even more so. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and 103 minutes will zip right by. A complete blast with wonder spanning the epic to the miniscule.
Andy is heading off to college and must decide what to do with all of his old toys. Buzz and Woody and the whole crew haven’t been played with for what seems like years and worry builds up that they’ll be forgotten and possibly even thrown out. Through a series of miscommunications and coincidence, they are mistakenly donated to a child day care facility where they meet all sorts of new toys. But things aren’t all as they seem and a plan is hatched to escape and make it back home to the one who needs them most: Andy.
Leave it to Pixar. They simply never fail. Ever. Though skeptics still wonder why this studio doesn’t put their talents to better use with new and original ideas, the one story that is fair to come back to is this one. Toy Story catapulted Pixar into the cinematic stratosphere and the sequel was arguably even a better adventure. So it makes sense to wrap up the story of this lovable group of friends with the trifecta; and wrap it up nicely they do.
As always with Pixar, the visuals are flawlessly gorgeous. Although in the case of Toy Story, care must be taken to not deviate too much from the look of the original; which was, although still way ahead of its time, put together fifteen years ago and obviously there have been a few leaps in technology since then. The creators here stuck with that slightly more “basic” look and only improved on a few details, textures and slightly more epic locations.
Surprisingly, the 3D aspect, should you choose to see it that way, is not distracting or gimmicky and is actually incorporated into the film quite well. By the end, I sort of forgot I was wearing the glasses and that there was any 3D going on at all. Which says a couple of things: one, if there’s any studio I want doing my 3D, it’s Pixar as they seem to work it in rather seamlessly. On the other hand, my second point would be that while it works well and isn’t distracting, that doesn’t mean it’s necessary or even adds all that much to the experience. There is deprivation to the color and the screen is noticeably dimmer than usual. So once again, even though the 3D here generally works, any positive facets are easily offset by the negative aspects that still plague the technology. And while a relatively short film, some may still experience fatigue, dizziness or head trauma.
This 3D fatigue may set in even earlier or more strongly than otherwise what with all of the moving “camera” techniques employed in some of the film’s fantastic action sequences. The direction is terrific here and the innovation of the story tellers to overcome obstacles that these toys face is nothing short of sheer brilliance. How does a five-inch toy scale an eight-foot wall? How does plastic dinosaur get through a locked door or Mr. Potato Head escape an enclosed space? Again, the ingenuity and innovation on display here is not only brilliant, but always exciting and more often than not, “flat” out funny.
The scare factor is a little surprising, though in this case very welcome. Nemo and Monsters, Inc. certainly have their moments with sharks or dark, scary closets but nothing compares to the phobias and frightening atmosphere put on display here. In my nearly sold out theater there was some crying and screaming from the little ones while I heard more than one exclamation of “creepy!” coming from older audience members. There was even a few heads buried into shoulders scattered throughout the screening room. If clowns, broken dolls, terror monkeys and generally foreboding locations are enough to make you squirm, be prepared as you enter this somewhat dark house of horrors.
What makes this film work on an emotional level for some of the more mature (physically anyway) audience members is its use of nostalgia for us to relate with. This nostalgia can be discussed in two ways. First, while most of the toys throughout this universe are made-up, generic characters, there is some use of more classical toys that many of us remember owning ourselves. From toddler, Fisher-Price toys to barrels of monkeys to a glow in the dark book worm to something as obvious as Ken and Barbie, it was fun to look around a playpen and declare, “Oh I had that! I had one of those! Remember that toy?” This was a small level of joy all on its own. Not to mention they’re used in pretty unique ways – watch for the roulette scene. But many of us can also remember what it was like to get older and not have a place to put our toys. We simply can’t throw them out for the emotional attachment but they can’t very well sit on our shelves at college or a new apartment either. So what to do? From a personal perspective, this note of the story hit close to home and I (and most people I believe) will be able to associate closely with this inner struggle.
So Pixar does it again. It’s a nearly flawless romp of action, adventure, laughs and tears. As cliché as it may sound, that’s exactly what it is and exactly why movies have captivated audiences for a hundred years. It does everything it sets out to do with pitch perfect precision and should have an audience applauding with it across the board. It ties up the series fantastically well for a whole new generation to appreciate. Of all the summer blockbusters to see this year, this is the one that will be most enduring and in all probability, the most entertaining – certainly for the family friendly crowd. Sit back, take it all in and bask in the enjoyment. It simply doesn’t get much better than this.