Toy Story 3
Since I started reviewing movies, I've only re-watched a movie twice. (That is, I've watched a movie two times, two times. I mean, two times, I watched a movie twice. You know what I mean... right?) The first was Up, the second is Toy Story 3, and it's probably not a coincidence that they're both Pixar films. I certainly wish I could do it more often - How to Train Your Dragon and Avatar are just two recent movies I had wanted to watch again - but it's taking longer and gotten harder to write my reviews, because I've gotten harder on myself to write better ones. That's why I watched this film twice before I even started writing this review. I've got a lot to write about.
Because this is the deepest, most thematically rich, most emotionally substantial Toy Story yet.
Andy (John Morris) is now 17 and heading for college, and his (few remaining) toys have resigned themselves to being "retired" to the attic - except for Woody (Tom Hanks), his favourite, whom he's planning to take with him to college. But a mix-up sends the gang - Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie the Cowgirl (Joan Cusack) and Bullseye the horse, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Barbie (Jodi Benson) and the Little Green Men (Jeff Pidgeon) - to the Sunnyside daycare centre. There they are welcomed by Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) and Ken (Michael Keaton), and at first it seems like heaven for toys; there will always be kids to play with them, and Lotso appears to be the benevolent doyen of the community. But he soon reveals his dark side, and life at Sunnyside turns into hell for our toy heroes. Meanwhile, Woody has ended up in the possession of a little girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn), and when he hears about the goings-on at Sunnyside, he becomes determined to rescue his friends.
The thing about Pixar films is that they can always be enjoyed by both children and adults, but Toy Story 3 really throws that into sharp relief. The movie can be enjoyed on a purely surface level, and it is fantastically enjoyable. It is frequently and brilliantly hilarious; Spanish Buzz gets my vote for single funniest thing in the whole movie, and believe me, there's huge competition for that title. It is as exciting and thrilling as ever; the toys' elaborate stratagems and acrobatics for getting in and out of tight spots may not be as fresh as it was in the first two films, but they're still wildly inventive and loads of fun. Beloved characters return and are as lovable as ever, even some unexpected ones. (Hint: pay special attention to the garbage man.) It's a perfect family film that will keep viewers of all ages entertained, engaged and enthralled.
But if you look deeper... wow. In my mini-review of Toy Story 2, I said that I hope this sequel would explore the theme of being abandoned by a loved one more fully, and... wow. It did, in ways both unexpected and satisfying. Andy has grown up, and the toys do get (mistakenly) thrown out - and I gotta admit, when I saw the trailers featuring wacky hijinks at a daycare centre with a plethora of cute new toy characters, I was afraid that the movie would forego the serious stuff for the wacky hijinks. But the serious stuff is there, just under the surface, and it proves immensely rewarding if you know where to look. Here's where you can start: note the one thing Woody keeps saying - "we've got to be there for Andy!" - as well as the one thing Buzz keeps saying - "we've got to stay together."
That, in a nutshell, is the theme of the story. Love vs. friendship. Love, for and of a human child, which is pure and passionate and is what toys are literally made for - but is also unequal, because the child does not (and can never) know that his toy loves him back. Not to mention ephemeral, because every child will outgrow his toys; that pure and joyous love will always, always, fade. But the toys also have friendship - friendship between themselves, between equals, who know and accept each other for what they truly are. In the intervening years since Toy Story 2, a great many of Andy's toys have been sold off at yard sales - one of which, sadly, is Bo Peep, Woody's paramour. In losing the one toy to whom he was closest, Woody now clings even tighter to Andy's love. It is he who tries valiantly to persuade his friends to return to Andy, and it is he who accuses them - ironically, but with a grain of truth - of being selfish to want to stay at Sunnyside where they will always be played with by children.
Contrast this with Lotso, who has also suffered a traumatic loss - being replaced by Daisy, his child owner, when he was inadvertently left behind during a family day trip. It is here that another dialogue callback illuminates the theme further; twice, when Lotso angrily says, "she replaced us!", someone replies "she replaced you!" Lotso's true villainy isn't that he rules Sunnyside with a deceptively friendly iron thumb, nor is it that he forces Buzz and gang to be mistreated by the rough play of the daycare's smaller kids. It is that the loss of Daisy's love has made him turn his back on the companionship of his fellow toys, making him cruel and callous to another toy's fate. Only he was replaced by Daisy, but if he couldn't return to her, then he couldn't bear to see any other toy - toys that were once his friends - do so either. And thus he became a toy who would plead to other toys to save his life, then moments later betray them to their deaths.
Oh boy, that scene. The scene where all hope appears lost, and a horrible death is staring our beloved heroes in their faces. You could criticise the movie for having one too many daring-toy-escape action scenes, but they're there to set up this scene in which all their ingenuity and derring-do of the past 1-½ hours fails them. It is grim and harrowing, perhaps too much so for young children - but it is incredibly effective and memorable, and a testament to Pixar's courage to put it in the movie (as well as their skill to make it work). It also makes the inevitable ending a sweet relief, in which our toys end up in the best possible - and unexpected - fate. And what does the ending indicate for its love vs. friendship theme? Which side does it favour? The answer: both. Its final message is no less than that both relationships are worth maintaining, that each has its place in a full and happy life. That love may break your heart, but it is always worth pursuing; and that when you are left heartbroken, it is your friends who will provide the solace you need.
In fact, I've only just realized, as I write this, that Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog, the Little Green Men... they're not friends. They're family. That's what they're a metaphor for. It is your family that will comfort you when love lets you down, yet you need never choose them over love. You need never choose between the two at all.
There are only two reasons why I'm not giving this movie 5 stars. One is that Lotso's final fate feels like an afterthought, and too closely resembles Stinky Pete's from the second film. The other is that the ending didn't quite work for me; I've read numerous comments about how that scene made viewers teary-eyed, but even on the second viewing it didn't do it for me. (I'll talk about it further in the comments, since I'll be discussing spoilers.) But just like the last Pixar film I reviewed, I just might change my mind after another viewing. There are so many layers of meaning and nuance and metaphor to Toy Story 3, that I feel confident in naming it the most rewatchable Pixar movie to date. (Hell, you could even make a case for it being an examination of the afterlife.) And that's an amazing achievement for a studio that has never made a single bad film, for whom it must get harder and harder to top themselves every time, yet keeps doing it again and again. Proof once again, that they are the greatest film studio of all time.
NEXT REVIEW: Kapoww!: Atoi the Ajaib Boy
Expectations: after Toy Story 3? Looooow