Pixar. The name alone conjures up a host of unforgettable animated images and characters. Does Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E and Up ring a bell?
In 1995, when the first Toy Story movie was released as the first fully created by computer animation, the name held little power. Fifteen years later, Pixar is the behemoth of animation, wracking up massive box office and lining company shelves with enough awards to make storage a challenge.
Preferring to concentrate on new stories, Pixar hasn't dabbled in sequels for any of their films. Toy Story is the only Pixar film to be granted a sequel (although there will be a Cars 2 in 2011), and we are up to part three in the series.
Push all your worries aside and trust in Pixar, for they have delivered another stunningly entertaining movie that appeals to kids and adults alike. Toy Story 3, while the characters are somewhat familiar, is the best Toy Story film yet, offering up everything you want in a summer film -- laughter, adventure, emotion and suspense. It's not just a great animated movie -- it's an amazing movie. Period.
The hook to the Toy Story films is that the toys are not inanimate objects, they are alive, to think and feel just like humans. What's a toy supposed to do when their "owner" (in this case, a 17-year-old Andy about to head off to college) decides that he's too old to fool with them?
Forgotten in a darkened, musty box, the toys have a dream they cling to: Andy will take them to college. Or, the fallback plan of being put in the warm, safe retirement home setting that is the attic. Paranoid toys whisper pessimistic notions about the worst place on earth: the dumpster aka the landfill.
A mix-up has the toys on the curb, suffocating in plastic bags, garbage truck inching perilously closer and closer. The toys, as they often do in the films, are forced to stick together and work as a group to get themselves out of this danger.
Team skills and unity of mission are the underlying messages here. The toys end up at Sunnyside Daycare and are immediately impressed that there are kids playing with other toys. Plus, there is a rainbow spotted on the way into the building and anything with a rainbow on it can't be bad, right?
Wrong. Only Woody (the cowboy, voiced by Tom Hanks) has reservations about Sunnyside. At first, Sunnyside appears like a utopian fantasy world for the toys. There are kids who want to play, and playtime is the sacred, ultimate experience for toys.
The toys that already live at Sunnyside are friendly, giving a tour of the facility and inviting the newbies into the "family." All is not what it seems, though.
New toys are shepherded into an area of Sunnyside inhabited by the most dangerous of toy foes -- the toddler. These kids only know one way to play and that is rough and violent.
The toys are thrown around, painted on, stretched and abused nonstop by the kids. If they stay in this room, they won't make it out alive. When they attempt to go where the older kids are playing, they realize that all isn't rainbows and cuddly good feelings at Sunnyside -- it's actually a prison, and they are its forced labor. The only thing that can save them is to escape and make the long, dangerous trek back home to Andy's room or that enticing attic.
On the surface, it's very easy to see why Toy Story 3 works so well as a film -- it's fun, smart, fast-paced and action-packed. Those things are obvious, and they are why the film is loved by kids. For the film to work for adults, the less visible elements of the films are so dastardly endearing that you can't help but be roped in by the heartwarming paths it sprints toward. One idea, the nostalgia of childhood, is impossible to escape from while watching Toy Story 3.
Adults view their childhood through a hazy fog of memory. We all remember the things we loved to do as children, our favorite toys and games we chose to play. We don't think of it often, but those memories are there any time we want to revisit them. Toy Story 3 taps into the idyllic innocence of childhood where imagination and fantasy lingered side by side. Most adults are lost in our "adult" lives, so to get to go back to that place in our minds for 90 minutes is a magical place to visit.
Toy Story 3 took me back to when I was a child and only cared about one thing: the freedom of playing. The toys themselves, a list that runs into the hundreds, are all connected to our shared nostalgia of youth. The toys run the gamut of cultural eras, so a person of any age can feel a connection by remembering a similar, beloved toy they once had (or still have in a box or in the attic). To see these toys alive unlocks a part of the heart, where all these feelings of being a child come flooding back to the viewer.
The movie might have these deeper meanings, but it's still a cartoon and that means it has to be enjoyable. Pixar knows how to do that with providing depth of story, snappy dialogue (all the regulars are back including Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles) and real suspense. Sunnyside has two great villains in Lotso (voiced by an amazing Ned Beatty) and Big Baby, who are either really sweet or creepy depending on what they are up to. The last third of the film is thrilling as it races toward the big emotional payoff that Pixar always has up its sleeve. And it all works. Every single thing in the film works.
Toy Story 3 is another in the long list of films from Pixar that will charm audiences for years to come. It's equally beguiling for adults as it is for kids and is likely the most perfect form of sheer entertainment to come to the multiplex in 2010. It's going to make a lot of money, and it's going to win more awards for already crowded shelves. And you know what? Toy Story 3 and Pixar deserve it.
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