Monday, 2 August 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Yes, folks, everything you have heard is true. Pixar have gifted us with a brilliant 'must-see' movie. In film history, there have been many trilogies, but usually by Part 3 one's enthusiasm has been numbed by overkill or shoddy film-making. Of course there are so many exceptions to this that it is not a safe rule of thumb to fear the worst. Successful three-parters that spring to mind are the Indiana Jones films, the Lord of the Rings cycle, Sergio Leone's Eastwood spaghetti westerns, and Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy. Some people might include the first three Star War films (now confusingly numbered 4, 5, and 6), but they have never rowed my boat. While the first two Toy Story films were incredibly good in execution and storytelling, Number 3 outshines them both in the improved skill of its animation, its clever scripting apart from the very occasional potty joke, its impeccable voice cast, but most of all by its successful tug at the old heartstrings. There is no doubt that it will win the animation Oscar next year, but if there were any justice in this strange world, it should vie for Best Picture as well.

It has laugh-out-loud jokes, nail-biting tension and excitement, and that undefinable something that reminds us all that we have lost the innocence of childhood; it brings tears to our eyes and a choke to our throat. As their owner Andy gets ready to go off to college, his remaining toys, bar his favourite cowboy Woody whom he plans to take with him, are bagged for the attic. Unforeseen circumstances land them at a day nursery for rambunctious youngsters, ruled over by the seemingly benign, berry-scented stuffed bear Lotso and his scary stooge Big Baby. It is Woody's job to convince his friends that they were not abandoned and that they must escape back home. Friendship, loyalty, and love are the virtues that Pixar celebrates.

It is good fun to welcome back all of the old voice cast, although there is a lovely section where Tim Allen's Buzz gets reprogrammed in Spanish and segues into a Latin lover. Two additions to the cast are Ned Beatty as the treacherous Lotso and back-from-the-wilderness Michael Keaton as Barbie's Ken. The action and robotic animation between these two plastic dolls is one of the film's cleverest highpoints, as Barbie trashes his massive wardrobe to get his cooperation. But there is so much more that one might praise.

Like all major, non-Ghibli, animation nowadays, the film has been released in 3-D since this is what the punters expect and also the format that produces the biggest return for the studio and the theatres. However, once one has oohed and ahed at seeing the toys' three-dimensional world, this gimmick quickly becomes irrelevant here and the film would be equally involving in old-fashioned 2-D. While no doubt superior technology is on the way, 3-D does not really work on DVDs at present. I have Coraline in both foremats and the 3-D disc produces a washed-out picture at best, with the fruitless search for depth interfering with the charming story being told. It is for this reason that "Avatar", "Up", and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" have not been released to disc in that foremat. With the latter two films, this should not matter since they are sufficiently involving stories without the added dimension. With "Avatar, however, the visual effects are the best thing about the movie and I can't imagine wanting to own a copy without them. I don't know whether its sales on disc have been disappointing, but no doubt this is why that film is shortly being re-released to cinemas for the waiting world (?).

I must give Pixar a final shout of praise for their short feature "Day and Night" which plays with "Toy Story 3". This is as unusual and clever a bit of animation as I have seen for many a day and one wonders whether there are any limits to the miracles that Pixar can tap. I hope not!
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