Last week, film critic Armond White roused the full fury of the internet by giving Toy Story 3 a bad review. While he has a bit of a reputation as being someone who disagrees simply to provide a crazy alternate opinion, this is roundly unfair, and I can’t help but have some sympathy for him and understand how he thinks Toy Story 3 is a bad movie. I won’t join him that far, because I did have a great time after some slow buildup, but to say that it was a bit disappointing is accurate.
As we join the toy crew, Andy has grown into a fine young man and is taking his first important step to adulthood and moving off to college. This means that it’s time to clean out the old bedroom, and a few neglected toys are looking to capture some more of his attention before he goes. It’s easy to understand why, Andy used to have quite the imagination and it’s showcased in a very fun fashion in the opening scenes of the movie. However, unlike the opening scenes, the film continues on in a strangely bored and detached fashion, and it’s hard to find much to be excited about.
It’s not for lack of trying. After a misunderstanding involving the ultimate fate of the toys, Woody tries to get everyone to abandon the day care that they are sent to. It seems to be a safe haven for toys that were threatened with abandonment but can enter the greedy arms of preschool children. Whether this is better or not is up to you, but it’s here that Toy Story 3 loses it’s focus and drifts back into themes that were better used in it’s predecessors.
Once again, we have a grizzled toy that was once abandoned (in this case an ominous teddy bear), that orchestrates a carefully calculated reality to keep other toys in line. If this reminds you of Toy Story 2 to any extent, it was about the only thing going through my mind during the early scenes in the day care. They’re lacking in a lot of the originality and excitement that both previous movies and any of the recent Pixar productions have had. I wasn’t entirely bored, just a little less than thrilled to be going through the motions of the same story.
What saves Toy Story 3 from attaining a strangely polished level of mediocrity is the last thirty minutes of the movie. Woody catches wind of the dirty deeds afoot at the day care and sneaks his way back in to find a way to rescue the other toys. Something must have jolted the creators out of their path at this point because there is so much invention crammed into these sequences that you wish they could stretch out forever. The joy ends with a sudden and questionable turn to mortal peril, which somehow manages to make parallels between taking care of your toys and the Holocaust.
There's enough invention that you're likely not to question these decisions until you leave the theater, and Mister Potato Head deserves special mention for this. He goes through a disembodied adventure that involves some incredibly clever animation and plotting. Even when things go wrong they find an excellent way for him to overcome obstacles and become the true hero of the film. There’s a lot of fun with a recently rebooted Buzz Lightyear as well, but the stereotyping makes it feel more like something that escaped out of a good Dreamworks film instead of the people that gave us silent montages of robots dancing with fire extinguishers in space.
Even the voice cast seems a little bored. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen turn in good performances, but don’t seem to have the same energy that they did in the other two films. Also, the return of Slinky Dog puts Pixar in the unfortunate position of having to recast Jim Varney. I know that it’s been 11 years since the last film, but he had a way with the character that’s left a permanent stamp on the way he feels in the film. I wish that they could have found some way to honor the character without specifically including him, because the voice actor that they got sounds like he’s trying to do his best Varney and realizes that his voice is not up to par.
While Toy Story 3 isn’t up to scale with the best of Pixar’s films it’s certainly not in the bottom tier. It almost encompasses it’s own category, because it’s not quite the second (third?) coming of Toy Jesus that a lot of people were hoping for. But it isn’t the same kind of bland, sorta disappointment like Cars. Ultimately it’s not the greatest film of the decade, or the year, but it’s at least way better than Marmaduke - and if you're looking forward to it is worth your time in the theater.
Just make sure to save yourself the cash and watch it in 2D. The extra dimension will just make the occasional spots of tedium that much more headache inducing.
Directed by Lee Unkrich.
Written by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich.
Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and many others.