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Josh Reviews Toy Story 3!

July 1st, 2010
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It’s not that the folks at Pixar are incapable of making a bad movie.  (I, for one, never cared for Cars.)  It’s just that it’s so very very rare that they do.  But after watching the marvelous Toy Story 3, it’s easy to believe that Pixar can do no wrong.

It’s been eleven long years since Toy Story 2.  One can perhaps be forgiven for doubting that even the mad geniuses at Pixar could recapture the magic of Toy Story after such a long hiatus.  But I am pleased to report that Toy Story 3 continues Pixar’s powerful winning streak.  It might not be quite the masterpiece that Toy Story 2 is (that film still stands as one of my all-time favorite movies), but I found it to be relentlessly entertaining and deeply moving.

At the end of Toy Story 2, Woody and the gang gave up the possibility of a lifetime of preservation (behind glass in a toy museum in Japan) in favor of a few more years being played with by Andy.  Toy Story 3 follows that decision through to its painful, inevitable conclusion.  Yes, Woody, Buzz and friends got a few more years being loved by Andy — but at the beginning of this film, he is all grown up and heading to college.  This leaves the toys facing the prospect of either years of storage in an attic, or being taken out with the trash.  Both prospects are devastating to the toys, whose main desire is to be played with and loved by a child.

Pixar could have easily kept Andy — and the rest of the characters — forever frozen in an ageless state, like Peter Pan or Bart Simpson.  I could easily imagine Pixar making sequel after sequel featuring the gang’s adventures in Andy’s room, without feeling the need to allow real-world issues like the realities of time and aging to intrude on the fun.  God bless the folks at Pixar, then, for not taking that route, and instead grappling head-on with the tough questions raised by the end of Toy Story 2.  The result is a film that — while still absolutely hilarious in parts — I found to be surprisingly melancholy.  This is not a criticism, it is a powerful complement.  The artists at Pixar haven’t created another simplistic, cookie-cutter franchise-extender.  They’ve produced a poignant fable that wrestles with issues that have no easy solution.

That statement leads me to consider (as I have many times since walking out of the theatre), the film’s marvelous ending.  (I’m going to be vague here, to try to avoid major spoilers — but nevertheless, please beware.)  I gladly admit that this film had me fooled — I really was expecting a thoroughly dour ending.  No, I didn’t believe the toys were all going to get incinerated.  But I just didn’t see any way out of the characters’ predicament that wouldn’t be a total narrative cheat.  Once again, god bless those geniuses at Pixar.  They managed to create an ending to the film that could be called a happy ending, while still remaining emotionally true.  (And I wrote “could be called a happy ending” because, despite some upbeat turns, I still found the end of the film to be powerfully bittersweet.  Again, this is a strong compliment, not a criticism.)

The core group of voice actors have all returned for Toy Story 3 and are as entertaining as ever.  Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz), Joan Cusack (Jessie), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), Wallace Shawn (Rex), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Estelle Harris (Mrs. Potato Head), are, of course, all just phenomenal.  They’re joined by a few great new additions.  The amazing (and woefully under-used for the past few decades) Ned Beatty (who I’ll always think of first as Lex Luthor’s bumbling assistant in the Richard Donner Superman films) knocks it out of the park as the villainous Lotso (as in “Lotso Hugs Bear”).  I was also thrilled to see the long-awaited introduction of Ken to the Toy Story films.  Ken is voiced by Michael Keaton, who is so perfect for the role that after seeing the film I couldn’t possibly imagine any other actor in the role.

Toy Story 3 may be an animated film about toys, but make no mistake — it is an adult, emotionally rich and complex piece of work.  If this is the final Toy Story film, it provides a fine conclusion to the story.  But it’s so good, that I sure hope it’s not!

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