TOY STORY 3
109 Minutes // USA // Pixar Animation Studios
director: Lee Unkrich / writer: Michael Arndt
Friday, June 18th, 2010 – AMC Yonge and Dundas
starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen & Ned Beatty
With a score of 99% on Rottentomatoes and a 91/100 on Metacritic, the term ‘masterpiece’ has already been stapled to Toy Story 3 as if an apothegm. What makes this worse is that all of the negative reviews conducted by critics (two in all thus far) have been expressed so poorly that to strip away their license to critique anything media related would be a justifiable action. Armond White’s take on the film as a mere cashgrab caused my eyes to roll so aggressively that I’m surprised to have not dislocated a retina. Then again, to assume Mr. White’s criticisms on any film as a valid dissertation would be to resign yourself to mental retardation – I know he already has. The other negative review comes by way of Cole Smithey (who?) whose main gripe is that the film isn’t happy enough and that the 3D is useless. Who does he write for? St. Joseph’s Elementary? Toss in the fact that the review wouldn’t pass for a Grade 10 reflection on any film, let alone meet the 500 word requirement and you’ve got another complete idiot doling out their perspective at the cost of the reader’s intelligence. See who I’m contending with? So in order to make my negative opinion on this film a valid one, I’ve got to jack up the wit and insight in attempt to not be coupled with these two non-critics and have us deemed “The Three Stooges”. Well, maybe you’ll do that anyway.
So let’s begin: Toy Story 3 sucks.
We begin with a grandiose set piece – Woody and Jessie are gallantly attempting to halt Mr. Potato Head and his accomplice Mrs. Potato Head from getting away with great riches that they’ve stolen from a train. It’s very eccentric and cartoonish – perfectly fine considering its the visual actualization of what’s going on in young Andy’s head when playing with his toys. This is a nice scene, if a precursor for the jarring pacing issues that will follow later on in the film because when has an adventure film opened on its biggest action scene? It isn’t too big a gripe, but when a sequel to an animated series that has presented itself as soothing and full of warmth opens on the realized hyperactive imagination of a youth, you’re bound to be thrown for a loop. It’s also malignant to the film because at no point throughout the rest of the film does a scene equal the amount of visual vigor as the opening one. There are apparent problems all over the place for this feature – the writing is ghastly, even for one that is clearly by the numbers; the editing is poor, there’s is no flow between scenes but rather a smashing together of the exciting, the comical and the dramatic; and the direction is bloated, I wasn’t much of a fan for the first feature, but give me the humble simplicity of its construction over the frenetic perspective edits and visual garishness that pushes this already off course feature even further astray from any point.
After this moment of false grandeur, the story begins. Well, not until it feels the need to lull you in the mood for the feature… you know, the one you’ve already paid to watch. Lucky for us, we get a montage of young Andy growing up through the perspective of an old camcorder with “You’ve Got A Friend” (from the original Toy Story) playing in the background. This is no doubt an attempt to duplicate the sincerity of Up’s interlude, as well as a cheap way to entice of a sense of nostalgia in its viewer. The attempts don’t stop there though because we’re exposed to several in-jokes throughout the rest of the film which only took me out of the film. Well, as out as someone partially in could be. Fortunately these jokes aren’t constant enough to be a great annoyance, but they’re still as unnecessary as back-to-back manicures. Less polished, too.
But I must deflect my attention to the plot at hand for the sake of actually reviewing the film. You see, the plot isn’t really a plot – there is no foundation from which the story stems, no deeply rooted insight that is cause for the film’s momentum – all there is in Toy Story 3 is happenstance; the only reason the story has any perpetual motion is because accidents keep happening. From the first mistake in which Andy’s mom mistakes a bag full of Andy’s toys as a bag destined for the nearby garbage truck to the moment where Andy has to say goodbye to Woody, none of the story is… well, a story. It may have the appearance of a story to someone who doesn’t logically think about it, but really, nothing here follows any sort of narrative, just a design. It’s as if Michael Arndt was given a design with which to write a film – a three act structure that’s affable and will appease the masses – but rather than write it with some semblance of intellect, he filled it with scene after scene of reckless abandonment, not caring to replicate what made the first two movies what they were: simple and to the point, but not without the ability to manage action, drama and comedy.
Now I’m hardly a fan of them (the first is very simple; the small moments of brilliance aren’t expanded on and the story is rather ordinary, the second is good and has a moral that really got to me with an intriguing narrative) but I’ve never had an issue with how they were constructed. My complaints mostly came from the poor direction or plain decisions in the story, but never because the story was without a palpable plot. All of the intentions from every character was constantly reminded to the audience, so everything they did make sense – it was what they did that furthered the story, not the misfortune of the factors around them that did.
In Toy Story, Woody tries to get rid of Buzz and the film furthers from that point – that’s the plot and that’s how it progresses. Toy Story 2 is about the internal battle that Woody faces, while the other toys follow an adventure in trying to procure and rescue Woody from the location he’s at. They’re both entirely character driven and rarely rely on the human factor – they get where they get because of themselves. That’s a plot – this is more “People mess with the toys, the toys persevere, but people keep messing with the toys, so they need keep persevering”. Even the villain in this, Lotso the Teddy Bear is hardly explained. He was loved and betrayed and now holds everything in contempt. Alright, but why? In the first film, Woody has the same problem – in the second one, too. Hell, in the same film that Lotso vilifies mankind for being entirely selfish, Andy’s toys feel the exact same hurt of being no longer wanted when they’re left on the curb, but this comes to a resolve before the end concludes. What makes the main villain of this different? Nothing. This is awful characterization through and through.
In addition, the humor and other types levity that this story contains feel either completely desperate or sorely misplaced. Lame jokes pervade the film – from the gratuitous overstatement of Ken’s flamboyancy to either ironically spoken or absolutely idiotic one-liners (ie. “that’s just another dinosaur from down the street, it’s nothing. Just another dinosaur”) to the unctuous miscalculation where the infants at the daycare are mangling the toys during playtime; a scene that should have played out as something horrific is interpreted as nothing more than aggressive geniality because of its terrible scoring and cute perspective edits. In fact, I only found myself laughing twice – once during Mr. Pita Bread Head and the first time we meet Bonnie’s toys. This wouldn’t be such a major annoyance if it didn’t interfere with scenes of key importance. I’m speaking of the climax.
The climax: the scene where the protagonist(s) reach a point of no return – they take affirmative action and deal with the impending consequences whatever they may be. Before the climax, there is rising action – this is the long series of events that inevitably lead up to the climax. In the scene just before the climax, the toys avoid falling victim to a garbage chipper. It’s brooding, suspenseful – Woody and Buzz prove their nobility once again through yet another altruistic exploit. We build and build to that scene of no return, but then the music becomes more jovial and Rex says “I can see the light!” in his intrusive tone. I get it – it’s a moment of levity, a break in the suspense before it becomes too dire – but that doesn’t keep it from being a sorely misplaced moment. It may seem insignificant, but in watching that sequence unfold and have yet another thoughtless and unmerited tonal shift take place where it shouldn’t have, it ruins what little the film had going for it at that time and place. It took me out of one of the only scenes where I felt completely transfixed on the screen through my 3D glasses and the scene that followed (the most important scene in the entire film) wound up being absolutely paltry because of it. I felt nothing in what was (poorly) setup to be the trilogy’s most emotional moment. Utterly pathetic filmmaking.
One of the very sparse shining moments the film has to offer is Bonnie, a very happy child who loves playing with toys. She’s demure, cute, friendly – everything Boo is in Monsters, Inc. Hell, she even looks like Boo plus a few years, but that’s beside the point. The point is, she’s one of the most adorable characters ever with a personality that will stick with you. She’s the reason why the film contains any emotional resonance – bad because she’s hardly the focal point of the story, but good because without here this would be an even more abysmal effort. Eventually she becomes the safe haven for toys – only because Woody stumbled upon it (more happenstance) – and her home the objective in the later stages of the film. However, there is a glaring issue with her youthfulness and I will explain that now.
As I’m sure I’ve made clear already, this is a very inconsequential film – one that doesn’t attempt to think things through whatsoever and guides its audience into believing everything will be alright when early on it can’t help but insist that it never will be for toys on a regular basis. By assiduously mocking youth and its culture – a young garbage man is laughed at by all for his idiocies, Andy’s sister is more focused on her iPod and new technologies than her old toys (a situation that is very true to reality) – why would the audience believe that Andy’s old toys will be comfortable for more than a few more years when the end finally rolls around and they do find their place in Bonnie’s toy box? They shouldn’t, but it ends on such an effervescent scene of adoration for the plastic playthings that you’re coaxed into believing that it will be. The problem is, Bonnie will most likely grow up to be like Andy’s sister or Andy or your sister or yourself – it’s very contradictory because we’re given a false sense of closure. There’s nothing that makes Bonnie standout among her peers, nor is there any indication that she will always love these toys.
Of course everyone wants a happy ending for Woody, Buzz and the gang because they cherish them as much as Andy in his youth, but how the narrative is constructed and how it contradicts the truths of contemporary society – the ones that it preaches earlier on in the film; the ones that are completely adherent to current Western culture – is very nonsensical. When you forget that it’s about toys coming to life, you’ll notice that everything that takes place in this film and the last and the last all happen in real life. The themes are inherently human, the world is not futuristic or alternative – it’s very much believable as your own, which I’m sure you know. But when the film begins to make important claims against reality – a reality it preaches – this film shows you that it has fundamental logistic issues. It contradicts itself – I don’t know the last time I’ve said that about a film before, but this one does it.
We’re lead to believe that there is a happily ever after in this story – there isn’t, but we want to believe it so we do. Well, let me be patronizing, most of you believe it because you do. There isn’t a single person able to justify how the ending concludes the trilogy with any sort resolve that isn’t temporary. The times where kids play with plastic toys are coming to an end – technology is progressing each day, children are more in tune with the latest Apple product or video game now more than ever. In reality, five or six year old Bonnie would only elicit pleasure from her toys for a few more years before she was turned onto something more advanced. And why should Andy’s toys hold a special place in her heart when she grows older? Wouldn’t it be Mr. Pricklepants or Trixie or Buttercup? There’s no ending here and that, too, contradicts the sentiment of the story: that toys don’t want to be locked up and forgotten. But that’s their fate in this technological world. The shame is that nobody wants to admit this; the greatest shame is that the filmmakers will avoid pontificating that at any cost, be it at the trilogy’s integrity or at their own.
From its effusive beginning to its pretentious ending, Toy Story 3 states nothing and wants you to assume everything. There is no ending, just what you want to happen; there is no story, just a variety of scenes put in an illogical order begging to be made sense of; there’s nothing – it’s an empty shell awaiting an anxious fan of the series to fill it with what they desire to happen. It’s just a lie; a facade; a brightly colored placebo with a familiar taste. What occurs on screen isn’t a film – it’s a channel devised simply to trigger nostalgic thoughts. If you like the series enough and the first two films hold a special place in your heart you should love this installment – not because it’s a great film, but rather because it’s your film. It’s only as good as you want it to be, unless you pick through its incongruities like myself. Or perhaps all of this is just a facade itself – a well-worded essay no better than Armond White’s that unveils my unhappy and contemptible personage. I hope not; I’d hate to be less realized than this film.