Saturday, December 25, 2010

Review: Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)

Following the studio's last two brilliant releases, the visually groundbreaking Wall-E (2008) and the charming Up (2009), who could have imagined that Pixar could have maintained such a level of perfection. With the third, and likely final, film in the beloved Toy Story franchise, Pixar have once again outdone themselves, immediately making the animated trilogy one of the greatest of all time. When Toy Story (dir. John Lasseter) was released back in 1995, it was a monumental animated achievement and one of the most popular family films ever released. It was the first film in the Disney/Pixar partnership and the first animated feature made entirely with CGI. Toy Story spawned a mass of supporting merchandise and Woody and Buzz became instantly recognizable and beloved icons. Following the release of A Bugs Life in 1997, John Lasseter returned to direct the Toy Story 2 sequel in 1999, which was an even greater hit at the box office, and was equally well received by fans and critics. Like the first film, the complex visuals endowed to the characters and the environments, and the well-crafted screenplay made it fantastic entertainment value for both children and adults alike. I have never favored it over the first film, but it was still one of the greatest animated films ever released at the time. It actually improves on the original in many ways and the script is still as gloriously witty, with endless pokes at popular culture.

With the announcement of the release of the second sequel in 2010, I was very excited. Having grown up with the first two films, and knowing that Pixar have never yet made a bad film, I was sure that it would be a success. Toy Story 3 still remains one of the top releases of 2010, and a second Best Picture Nomination for Pixar (following Up last year) looks likely. The images, like in Wall E, are absolutely stunning and the 3D technology works perfectly. I am still not convinced with the obsession with 3D from many producers, but Pixar have absolutely nailed it with both Up and now Toy Story 3. Fused by engaging action, subtle comedy and a unique and transcendental commentary on love, friendship and familial solidarity, TS3 floods the viewer with heartbreaking emotion. Endowed with incredible 'human' qualities the reality of the toys seems uncannily possible, and after witnessing the events of this film, it takes a very strong person to avoid tears by the conclusion. I was both overwhelmed by the moving finale but also the thought that this may be the last time I will ever see these characters in a cinema environment. Despite a few minor flaws in the script that sideline Buzz with the silly Spanish mode, and a prominent deus ex machina nearing the conclusion, the meticulously crafted intricacies of the sequences and the incredible 3D visuals allow all to be forgiven. Just imagine the reception if Pixar ended the film a few minutes earlier. It would have been one of the most controversial conclusions to a children film ever.

The opening of the film reveals that Andy has grown up to college age and will be moving out of home. Having outgrown his toys, but still feeling a connection to Woody, he decides to take Woody with him to college and store the rest of his toys in the attic. But an unfortunate mistake by Andy's mother results in the troupe ending up in the garbage where they barely escape. Despite Woody's claims that Andy wanted to keep all his old toys, the gang decide to be donated willingly to the Sunnyside childcare center. The initial illusion of paradise is quickly overthrown by the domineering ruler, Lotso the Bear. Lotso and his minions imprison the gang in the Caterpillar room, which is the playpen for destructive toddlers, and keeps them trapped in cells once they try and escape. Woody, wishing to return to Andy before he leaves for college, manages to escape shortly after arrival, but is discovered by Bonnie, a sweet girl who takes Woody home with her and introduces him to her other toys. Woody soon learns of the hidden evils at Sunnyside and the tragic story of Lotso, and plots a rescue attempt before Andy leaves for college and all is too late.

Woody is one of the greatest characters written for cinema. Beaten only by his love for his friends, his love for, and lifelong commitment to Andy is beautifully told. The opening montage of Andy as he reminisces moments of his childhood and his admiration for his toys quickly re-establishes our memory of the previous films after such a long absence. Woody has always been the heart and soul of these films and it comes to the fore here. The voice-cast, as usual, is outstanding. Especially Tom Hanks as Woody. Once Woody returns to Sunnyside and the gang is reunited, the prison escape sequence is ingeniously conceived and their ensuing perilous escape from the rubbish dump is tense and unpredictable. Without doubt one of the best film experiences of the year, now recently released on DVD, and worthy of many repeated viewings. While I still love the original the best, this is as perfect a finale as one could have hoped for to the most successful legacy in animated cinema.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

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