In one week we’ve managed to cut our lag time from three down to TWO MONTHS. Imagine what we might do next week!
Rotten Tomatoes may be to Metacritic what MySpace is to Facebook (does an analogy still work when none of the items is tangible and all are pointless?), but it’s worth noting when a movie has achieved 99% “Freshness” and certified crazypants Armond White is the only one offering a bad review. If you can’t tell by the title of this post (or the picture to the left with the toys and the giant yellow “3”), Toy Story 3 is that movie. Fifteen years after the release of the first Toy Story and the dawn, really, of the CG animation era, Pixar has once again created a film that manages to be both technically impressive and emotionally satisfying at the same time. In about five minutes it puts to shame every animated (and most non-animated) sequels ever made. It’s a part three that was never really called for but perhaps most remarkably…makes you feel it needed to be made.
And we’re off! Where Toy Story was a buddy movie and Toy Story 2 all about action-adventure, 3 falls squarely into prison break territory. The prison? Sunnyside Daycare, a sort of retirement home for toys Woody, Buzz and the gang are accidentally delivered to as Andy packs up for college. On the surface it’s not bad — fresh crops of children mean they’ll always be loved and never be put away. Not so bad! Of course the DARK SIDE of this seemingly wonderful place is quickly revealed as Lotso, the HMFIC, makes Buzz his bitch (resetting his software) and buys Rex for a pack of cigarettes (this doesn’t happen). Will our plastic friends ever make their way back to Andy?
The Shrek series — along with pretty much every CGI barf-a-thon released in its wake — has tried for years to hit that “something for everyone” sweet spot that satisfies both kids and adults. Ideally the former get a fun, colorful story with plenty of easily digestible lessons; the latter get “witty humor” (read: tax jokes) baked into the dialogue and enough sight gags to keep them from wondering, again, why they couldn’t just have snuck the former into Get Him to the Greek.
Pixar has never, ever operated by that principle. Their movies aren’t witty; they’re smart, in both subject and style. They don’t pander to children, but rather tackle traditionally kiddie themes — growing up, sharing the glue — in a way that any audience can connect to, because a good story will ALWAYS BE A GOOD STORY. Let’s compare loglines for a second. Madagascar: “Home is actually not so bad!” Toy Story 3: “Nothing is ever truly dead or lost when there are creative, curious minds to continue the work of those that came before.” Woody?
Many imagined that TS3 would be the end of Pixar’s PERFECT RECORD, but screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) and director Lee Unkrich (he co-directed TS2) keep the streak alive with what might be the best of the three Toy Story films and certainly the best movie of the year so far. It’s just supremely well-constructed — both as a genre movie and emotionally compelling drama — to the point that you never question what you’re seeing; you know from GO that you’re in able hands.
There are any number of elements that separate TS3 from the laundry list of also-rans like Happy Feet or the upcoming stupid one about the owls, but what elevates this film above even previous Pixar entries is its unflinching exploration of mortality. As in DEATH. Late in the film, after escaping Sunnyside, the toys find themselves betrayed (again) by Lotso and left to — ahem — burn to death in a massive incinerator. They’re saved, obviously, but the scene’s power is not in their rescue — it’s watching this band of friends (a group that’s theoretically been together for the last 10+ years) accept their imminent demise, reconciling themselves to the fact that they’re about to F*CKING DIE, and join hands in solidarity. I mean holy shit — how often do you see that in an adult* movie?
There’s so much to say about the story and its emotional depths that you almost forget the art direction or visual effects, but this thing looks great. DUH. I almost feel bad for the computer wizards who spend three years on these films bringing all 10,000 of Lotso’s pink teddy bear fibers to life, thrown a paltry “nice job!” in a backwater entertainment blog (…and maybe an Oscar, but still) because the movie they worked on was TOO GOOD. That same work, of course, being TOTALLY forgotten when the NEXT Pixar movie comes out and blows TS3‘s technical and storytelling achievements out of the water. Go work for James Cameron, guys! The creative standards are much lower!
Toy Story 3 is not some tacked-on addendum to the first two installments, but rather the integral last movement of a trilogy — operating and existing as its own entity, but also forcing you to look with fresh eyes at the movies that came before. It digs at something deep about friendship and childhood imagination and loss and reincarnation without playing (…too much) on sentimentality, in the process closing the book on a much loved fictional universe. And again, all this from a KID’S MOVIE. You embarrass me, Shark Tale.
NOTE: If you can’t tell from any of the above testimonial, Toy Story 3 is a TEARFEST of EPIC PROPORTIONS, so much so that if you’re the type of person who cries easily…you may want to watch alone. Maybe with no one in the house, or even next door. You’ll want to avoid embarrassing yourself, your children, or your significant other with whatever sounds — not sobs, but guttural sounds — come out of your body.
*You know what I mean, perverts.