Full disclosure: I missed the earliest scenes of this
Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3 takes us back into the world of Woody and Buzz – a full fifteen years after they exploded on the scene with what was the Dr. J foul line jam of animated movies. It is amazing that it has been fifteen years since Pixar showed us the possibilities of computer animation, with Buzz leaping and flipping, and his plastic helmet actually showing a reflection. For those who were taken away by films that stretch the possibility of showing the imagination on the screen, the first movie was a breakthrough.
The third movie in the series, and hopefully the last from a quit-while-your-ahead perspective matches the visual glory of the previous features – the animation is flat out brilliant – but shifts the focus away from the Andy-toy relationship and sends the toys into a fairly routine prison caper sort of deal with a entirely too long ending and a few curious messages to be delivering your children. Indeed the film feels a little bit dark for smaller kids – especially when we are seeing the toys ready to go off to toy heaven.
Andy of course at some point – has to go to college and break up his Christopher Robin idyll – and so the toys can’t be Andy’s toys forever. Woody – long Andy’s favorite – seems awfully invested in going with Andy to college, probably unaware of the impact that he might have on Andy’s “college experience”. The toys were ticketed to the attic, but by mistake end up being sent to a daycare facility. The daycare facility seems like a step up for the toys. There are no shortage of kids to play with them, and let’s face it, Andy probably had not been the most attentive toy user in recent years. They get shown around by a bear named Lotso, his assistant who seems an awful lot like a baby doll and a guy named Ken who really loves clothes – no points for figuring out the inspiration. The movie has fun with the characters. Woody is not impressed with this new life – and he still feels he has to be with Andy, showing a dedication to his master that evokes a bit of the Underground Railroad in reverse possibly.
Of course the toys discover that life is not all that peachy at the new place. They are placed in the room with the littlest kids – who play rough with the toys. Suddenly, Andy’s life seems better – and the other folks like Lotso seem to have better gigs. Through a series of plot developments that are fairly easy to anticipate, suddenly the toys are being held captive, as Lotso runs the place like Warden Norton did at Shawshank. From here the movie sort of evolves into your standard caper movie – Woody ends up on the outside and learns of the truth of the daycare center, comes back to lead a rescue, and a chase puts them face to face with a garbage collector and incinerator, where the sort of deus ex machina takes place which would be infuriating in a more serious movie. But come on, did you expect the toys to end up slaughtered?
The movie has fun with its targets – it toys with Ken’s sexuality without quite ever going “there”, and the conveniences of Mr. Potato Head’s facial construction. At one point in the movie Buzz gets converted into a Spanish speaking mode when his batteries are rest – and the unanticipated consequences of bringing a Latino hero in are quite funny and almost certainly over the heads of much of the target audience. However, when the movie stares into the incinerator, it is a little scary, and possibly too much for little kids to deal with.
The movie’s most interesting aspects though, are it’s rather overtly bourgeois view of normalcy. Woody’s desire to be owned again, the negative portrayal of day care centers relative to toys, and ultimately Andy’s decision to donate the toys at the end (who he donates them too) provide some curious messages about “normal” lifestyles and whatnot. Clearly I am thinking too much about this, but it was weird – especially during an ending which was a solid 20 minutes longer than necessary. Also, off topic, Andy might be something of a loser – but I still don’t understand how Christopher Robin got along in the later adolescent years either. A bad day of Pixar at the end of the day beats a good day of most every other studio, but ultimately Toy Story 3 is an amusing but forgettable piece in the studio’s canon.