Late to the Punch: Toy Story 3
The first in a series of reviews posted far too long after the fact
Brad Bird was right in taking issue with the idea that animation is a genre. For those who haven’t been paying attention in the past decade or so, the art form has evolved far beyond its 80’s ghettoized Saturday Morning toy commercials. And we aren’t talking about merely bridging the age gap, either: Warner Bros. did that early last century, creating bright, action-filled stories that had some appeal to children with humor aimed squarely at adults. While that sort of animation continues today with movies like Shrek, Monsters v. Aliens, and Ice Age, there is another sort of animated film being made which raises the form entirely.
And, by and large, those enlightened movies are made at Pixar. As you can probably tell, my ability to be anything akin to objective about Pixar ended long ago. Somewhere in the Toy Story 2/Monsters, Inc. timeframe, I bought my lifetime pass to Pixar projects. Although I don’t think of the track record as having been perfect, I have not yet been truly disappointed. Even the movies that I find to be weaker than others have a gem or two in them: although I found very little emotional resonance in talking cars, I did find the beautiful, painterly landscapes in Cars to be a tangible step in the evolution of the possible when it comes to computer animation, and also considered the casting of Paul Newman as a regret-filled old race car to be a stroke of uncommon genius. Watching even a few minutes of his complex work in Cars makes me want to go back and watch The Sting, Cool Hand Luke, or pretty much anything from his heyday in an effort to distract from the fact that somebody that soulful had to get old and pass on.
And that’s my reaction to my least favorite Pixar movie.
My favorite Pixar moments aren’t necessarily more flashy. They all share a deep emotional resonance that is hard to shake. Want to see me dissolve into tears for no apparent reason? Queue up Ratatouille to the scene where Linguini, new to the Gusteau kitchen, is given a crash culinary course by Colette and wait for this exchange:
Linguini: Thank you, by the way, for all the advice about cooking.
Colette: Thank you, too.
Linguini: For what?
Colette: For taking it.
That final line combined with the masterfully created facial expression that conveys simple gratitude for having a pupil who takes the time to truly listen, pride in having taught somebody a complex task, and the beginning of an admiration and friendship leaves me unhinged every time, as well as drive home the point that Pixar is playing a far different game from the group at Dreamworks who are widely considered to be their closest competition (a particular shame since that studio came out of the blocks with an underappreciated gem, Prince of Egypt in 1998.
Toy Story 3 has already been noted for its ability to wring a tear from even the most hardened and emotionally crippled male movie critic. And while I certainly found the themes of the end of childhood and, in particular, the expectation for males to put away childhood for adult life to be poignant, the emotional impact of the movie came much earlier for me. Andy, the owner of the toys, is heading off to college and the fate of his toys is up in the air. As the toys are divided out, Jesse, the cowgirl pal of Andy's favorite toy, Woody, believes that she is being thrown away. The sheer panic on her face, coupled with the knowledge of her backstory from Toy Story 2, is positively chilling.
That it gets worse for our band of heroes shouldn’t surprise anybody. I have to admit that even I, who respects the lengths that Pixar will go to take a story to unexpected places, was surprised with how far this particular film went. That it goes there and comes back with a brilliantly earned and executed deus ex machina, ending in the most satisfactory manner of any trilogy in recent memory is a tribute both to the loving care that the studio employs when writing its movies, but also to the depth of the affection they clearly have for this particular cast of characters. Too perfect, I’d say, for them to consider revisiting down the road. Here’s hoping that Andy’s kids aren’t pressed into service for another go around with Woody and Buzz for Toy Story 4.
Thanks again, Pixar. Aside from Iron Man 2, you saved this summer for me (though I expect that Christopher Nolan will save it again in a few weeks).