The toys are back in town

Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Toy Story 3"

Ap Photo/Disney Pixar, File
Ap Photo/Disney Pixar, File
In this file film publicity image released by Disney, from left, Jessie, voiced by Joan Cusack, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen and Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks are shown in a scene from, "Toy Story 3."

Pixar Animation Studios

1 hour, 43 minutes

It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since the original "Toy Story" came out. I remember it well because, aside from causing a splash by being the first fully computer generated movie ever, and introducing us all to a little company called Pixar, it was one of the first cartoons I'd seen as a full-fledged adult (I was all of 22 -- oooooh) that I could watch and enjoy as an adult. I guess I was officially old enough to feel nostalgic about being a kid. I remember thinking that the only thing wrong with the movie was the human characters looked a little weird -- humans being notoriously hard to render realistically with a computer.

Little did I know that Robert Zemeckis would come along several years later and show me exactly what weird humans looked like in the terrible "Polar Express."

This weekend I took my son to see the third installment of the "Toy Story" series and got to watch him enjoy the film on a completely different level. He loved it, not for the memory of toys, but for the now of toys, and part three, far from being dated or some kind of cynical attempt to cash in, is just as resonant as its predecessor was a decade and a half ago.

If you haven't kept up with the "Story," it concerns a group of toys -- Andy's toys, to be exact, and they've stuck with their owner, through thick and thin, since he was a very little boy. There's Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll, Buzz Lightyear, a sci-fi action figure, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, a plastic T-Rex, a piggy bank and more.

When Andy leaves the room, the toys sit up, shake off the debris from whatever adventure they've just been involved in, and lead lives of their own. There're minor jealousies, miscommunications, trust issues, but intense loyalty, both to the group and to Andy. They stick together, but now it's time for a new adventure. Andy is going to college and he has to set these icons of childhood aside. The question is, will they be sold in yard sales, as some of their fellows have been, put in the attic, or donated to a local daycare?

In the end, the toys decide, against the advice of Woody, who's been picked to accompany Andy to college, that being played with is better than mouldering in storage. Sunnyside Daycare it is, but things are not so sunny as they appear on the outside. Now the toys are trapped, used as cannon fodder in the toddler room by a fuzzy pink teddy whose benevolent exterior hides his true bitterness. It's up to Woody to save the day, all the while examining his true nature and what it really means to be a toy.

To someone who's never seen one of these movies, it's a little difficult to describe what makes them so great. The adventures of a cowboy toy and his friends sound cute at best, certainly not a cultural touchstone. But whether it's the nuanced voice performances by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and a host of others, or the beautifully written screenplays, or the simply amazing animation (they've really improved on the look of the humans, by the way) a simple description doesn't do "Toy Story" justice. It's a clich to market a kiddie flick as being "fun for the whole family," but "Toy Story 3," like almost everything Pixar puts out, truly is.

As I was taking note of a host of toys I remember from my childhood, both beloved and notorious (anybody recall that terrifying cymbal monkey?!), the kids in the audience, my 2-year-old included, were enraptured by story. Adventure, heart, scares, and lots of laughs, it's the kind of movie you wouldn't mind going back to see again and again -- another clich that happens to be true.

Audiences, as you know if you were one of the millions to see this movie this weekend, are flocking to see "Toy Story 3," bringing the film over $110 million dollars in its first three days of release. This is due in large part to the fact that it's a good movie, but due also to the fact that a good movie is something of a rarity this summer. Just about every film released in the past few months has either underperformed at the box office, underwhelmed critics, or both.

This has led movie mags like "Entertainment Weekly" to run big splashy articles entitled "What's Wrong with the Movies?!?!" but the answer is pretty simple. Just about everything out there is derivative; there's nothing new and the same old same old is wearing thin.

Now, you could say that it's a little disingenuous to promote not just a sequel, but a third edition of a movie as being the one original option at the movies, but that's the genius of Pixar. Everything they put out is fully realized and completely stand-alone, even the sequels. "Toy Story 2" was one of those rare films that could reasonably be said to have topped the original, and "Toy Story 3" could be argued to be the best of the bunch.

I don't know if there'll be a fourth entry into the series. This movie pretty well wraps up the "Story," but if, in five or 10 years, the people at Pixar decide there's another tale to tell, I'll be first in line.

Grade: A+

"Toy Story 3" is rated G though there are a few mild scares.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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