Sunday, July 25, 2010

Toy Story 3

I was twelve when Toy Story came out in 1995.  I originally didn't care for it.  I thought the CGI visuals looked very ugly compared to the traditionally animated Disney films that I had grown up on.  Moreover, I resented that everybody else seemed so insistent that it was a revolution, and I was terrified that its arrival signaled the end of hand-drawn animation.  My anti-computer animation prejudice endured for a few more years, as I passed on A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), and Monsters, Inc. (2001).  It was in 2001, however, that I happened somehow to catch Toy Story 2 on the Disney Channel, and I had to admit that I had been wrong.

It was the rare sequel that surpassed the original, although that didn't mean much to me.  I was simply entranced by the sharp humor, inventive set pieces, and astonishing emotional potency.  It was perhaps the most nearly perfect film I had ever seen.  It also encouraged a better appreciation of the first film, although I still didn't quite love the original Toy Story--a cruder work in every way, more notable for its technological advancements than its script.  But Toy Story 2 remains the only movie that, on any given day, when I am asked what some of my favorites are, will always spring to mind.  I'm not sure yet whether Toy Story 3 quite reaches that pinnacle, but it is no disappointment, which is saying a lot, considering what it had to live up to.

Toy Story 3 is not so nearly perfect a film as Toy Story 2.  To a large extent, it feels like a retread of Toy Story 2, only slightly more cynical.  In the last movie, Andy's toys were already made to consider that, one day, Andy would outgrow toys altogether.  But the mere painful suggestion of the idea was apparently not enough; in Toy Story 3, that scenario has finally come to pass, as the now seventeen-year-old Andy is preparing to go to college.  And however much his toys tried to brace themselves for this inevitability, nothing could have prepared them (or the audience) for such a heartrending farewell.

I must say, I never gave a damn about the Andy character in the first two movies.  I wonder if anybody really cares about the human characters in these stories where the toys are the stars.  So it was very easy for me to hate Andy for his abandonment of the toys.  But then it seemed to me that maybe, by proxy, I was hating myself for outgrowing my own toys, and I wondered if maybe Toy Story was losing its point with this movie that was, more than ever, about the fictional lives of toys themselves and no longer so much about how kids play with them.  But, of course, it's about more than that.  The toys aren't really just toys, after all, and it's okay for the viewers to identify with them instead of with the human bit players, because they are certainly more relatable than, say, the characters of Inception.  From people who have now spent large portions of their lives working on this series, this is a story about life, about change, the things we lose, the things we find, and the things we hold forever dear on this journey.

And it's also kind of brave, which is not a word one expects to apply to a second sequel.  Although it easily could have been just cheaply sentimental, Toy Story 3 is as robust an adventure as any of Pixar's works.  It pulls few punches, plunging the toys into great peril and great sadness (too much for some of the very young audience members at my screening).  It features a truly irredeemable villain, whose hilarious origin story, as presented in flashback, is practically a travesty of Toy Story 2's most affecting scene.  And in the end, it brings it all back around and goes straight for the heart.  As the story drew to a close, I must admit that I was fighting back tears, yet as I sat there in the theater, I wasn't even sure what I was so torn up about.

I know that a lot of older viewers said of the first two films, ostensibly pictures aimed at younger audiences, that they were experiences that reminded them of how it was to be a kid.  For those of us who were still kids (or at least teens) when those movies came out, I don't think the effect was quite the same.  But I think, with Toy Story 3, we get to experience something very unique to our generation.  While many movie years have passed for Andy and the toys since Toy Story 2, eleven real years have also passed for us viewers.  It went by quickly--too quickly, as it always does--but it is a long time, and seeing Toy Story back again after such a time, like meeting up with a friend you haven't seen in years, really puts things in perspective.  It's an effect that is not easily achievable in film--not something you could get, for example, by producing the back two episodes of a trilogy concurrently.  In the case of Toy Story 3, even days after viewing it, I found myself at work, suddenly emotional while still deep in thought (or feeling) over the movie.  I would recall the opening scenes showing Andy growing up with his toys, and I would reflect on how much had (and hadn't) changed in my own life during the same span of most vital years between films.  I knew then that this was something rare and powerful.

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