Sunday, 2 January 2011

Toy Story 3 (2010) - Lee Unkrich

I still remember being absolutely blown away all those years ago by the first Toy Story. It wasn't just the animation (although I'm always a sucker for that), it was more that Pixar had managed to hang those lush visuals onto a decent story, a story that didn't involve characters breaking out into bloody awful songs every five minutes. Along with the added bonus of it being about a gang of toys that you actually cared for, as much as you would if they were 'real' people in a 'real' film. The biggest thing for me with any sort of animated film, be it hand drawn, CGI, motion capture or whatever else, is that you quickly accept that the squiggles with voices up on the screen are real. For instance in Where the Wild Things Are, after the initial step back of just how cool the Wild Things themselves looked, it didn't take long at all to see them as real and allow the film to drag you in. Otherwise you'd spend the whole running time thinking about how fake they look, or how did they manage to do that, and end up missing all the nuances that make a good film, just that.

So anyway the first two parts of what has now become the Toy Story trilogy had the above in spades. I've always tried to see films aimed at kids, in a cinema full of that target audience. They talk and scream all the way through the film and it's a fantastic experience. The best moments for me are when the cinema falls silent and you know that the film has the little devils by the balls. It was Disney's Beauty and the Beast that really made me notice how great kids are to watch films with. When the Beast died they were in tears, but when it was revealed that he hadn't snuffed it, the cinema exploded with cheers and kids ran down to the front of the cinema and started dancing and singing, all this despite the fact that the film hadn't ended. You don't get that when you go and see the new Polanski now do you?

Anyway I didn't manage to see Toy Story 3 at the cinema. You see I loved Pixar at first, A Bug's Life was just a glitch I thought, besides it wasn't that bad. But in recent years after re-watching Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. I've discovered to my horror that Pixar are the ultimate animation auteurs, remaking the same film over and over. Their formula is a simple one, take a character and place them with another character that will rub them up the wrong way, send them both off on a journey where they will learn a valuable life lesson and of course become the bestest of buddies. I don't need Pixar to give me life lessons, I gleaned all I could from George Orwell novels and Bowie LP's, back in my teens. So I've been giving Pixar films a wide berth as of late, having seen both Wall*E and Up and found them both so over rated (I don't think reviewers dare say that Pixar is anything less than wonderful), great for the first twenty minutes then downhill all the way after that. The exception (there's always one isn't there), being the exceptional The Incredibles - which had to be seen since it was directed by Brad Bird the man behind the seminal The Iron Giant.

Toy Story 3 then, well I wasn't expecting much, it's not even helmed by original hawaiian shirted geek director John Lasseter. Plus it's another part of the 3D bandwagon (which is as off putting as a pool of vomit outside a restaurant you are about to eat in). On top of that it's the third part of an unplanned trilogy. Funny things film trilogies, they basically fall into two camps;- planned (Lord of the Rings, Red Riding Trilogy) and unplanned (Godfather, Back to the Future). Planned trilogies are for the obvious reasons normally the better of the two, since there are threads that run throughout the films with ease, this doesn't happen so much with the unplanned kind so you end up with lots of loose ends and unanswered questions (take a bow George Lucas), and normally films that become worse and worse with each entry (cough cough The Matrix). So high expectations weren't going to weigh this film down unfairly with me.

Right so after all that, we finally get down to it. Toy Story 3 is an exceptionally brilliant film, and without a doubt one of the better films to arrive during 2010. Exceptional because it should fall flat on it's beautifully rendered face, but doesn't. In fact it just makes the two previous Toy Stories shine just that little bit harder. This film has so much going for it, it works well for the little 'uns (although there is a scene towards the end which could be a little tough for them emotionally), but is equally decent for those of us that have a little more of an adult sensibility. For a start it riffs away on some of the better film trilogies. The opening sequence is from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there are references to Mission Impossible and just like Toy Story 2 the original Star Wars trilogy.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, the story this time round is that Andy (the boy who owns the titular toys), is now all growed up and leaving home for collage. Obviously not being the type of man gimp that would work at Pixar he isn't going to take his toys with him, so he opts for the lazy bugger option of bunging them all in a bin bag and heaving them up into the loft. Except (drum roll), things don't quite pan out that way, and a series of events see our toys end up in a play center run by a big old cuddly teddy bear called Lotso. Now of course things are never simple and it turns out that Lotso is in fact nutso, and the TS gang need to hot foot it back to Andy's house before he leaves for collage.

So straight away Toy Story 3 sets up a tension filled plot, the ticking clock plot device being one of the better ones to use to propel things forward. The whole film zips across the screen at perfect speed, the tone and pacing being spot on. Most of our favourite characters return, although I have to say I did miss Wheezy. That was more than made up for with (for me), a heart stopping moment when Totoro from My Neighbour Totoro makes a cameo. Best moment of the film for me that was. Of course there are a whole stack of new characters, all carefully written and voiced, so that even if they only have one line, it's a killer line. Just to slip back to that earlier thought about Star Wars references, Big Baby is the Darth Vader to Lotso's Emperor - don't worry it makes sense once you've seen the film. As I said this was a wonderful film, from the opening shot right the way through to the last, where the (virtual) camera pans up to a blue sky dotted with white clouds, which echoes the first shot from the original Toy Story. Perfect, just perfect.

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