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Toy Story 3

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Toy Story 3 posterToy Story 3 opens as an explosive action spectacular. The gang recall the childhood fantasies of their owner, Andy. The quality of graphic design is immediately apparent, though the usefulness of three dimensions remains unclear. Woody and Jessie chase a runaway train full of orphan Trolls, kidnapped by the wicked Potatoheads. The train flies into a chasm, before being rescued by Buzz Lightyear. Just as the heroes catch up with the culprits, making a getaway in Barbie’s corvette, evil Dr. Porkchop arrives in his porcine spaceship, and drops a Barrel of Monkeys A-bomb.

Such set-pieces are delightful – there’s a prison-break which injects real energy to the second act. As soon as plot is required to contextualise such coups de foudre, Toy Story gets pretty dull. It seems that Arndt, Lasseter, Stanton and Unkrich can architect exciting, dynamic scene sequences, but has trouble tying them together into a consistently entertaining whole. There are plot points that stretch the suspension of disbelief (so the toys, Once Again, don’t believe Woody, and this time on the rather mundane point of whether Andy’s mother was supposed to leave them as trash on the kerb – the instigating incident for the entire film).

Others will disagree, and I suppose my lack of enthusiasm stems from an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Toy Story 3 peddles the same charming and honourable nostalgia, the preoccupation with unrestrained childhood love, and the virtues of selfless service. Always a refreshing gear shift from the sort of revolting cultural assumptions that pervade most Hollywood fare, but can it sustain another sequel?

Then again, an inspired selection of new characters really lifts the film onto higher ground. Lots O’ Hugs is a delightfully Machiavellian Care Bear, whose sickly sweet down-home drawl hides a sinister side (and who has one of the worst puns of the film: “F.A.O. my Schwartz”). Ken (described pricelessly as Barbie’s accessory) provides most of the comic relief, and an excellent job he does too. Then there’s Chuckles the Clown, whose principal joke is simply his appearance.

The throwaway character gags make it worth sitting through, just. The original cast (those still among the living) continue to do an incredible job. My personal favourite is the excitable Tyrannosaurus Rex, voiced by the inimitable Wallace Shawn. And the addition of a prospective new owner for the toys, Bonnie (Emily Hahn), proves to be totally endearing.

I firmly believe Toy Story 3 to be superior in almost every way to its irritating predecessor. The visuals have enjoyed improvements in graphical technique over the intervening years, and are now simply delightful. It’s as effective, entertaining a mainstream American children’s film as one could imagine.

One big thing bothers me. It’s self-evident that 3D has added nothing to this film. As expected, Pixar offers a short film to preface the main feature. Night and Day, by contrast, is entirely predicated on three dimensional effects – so much so that it’s remarkably difficult to describe without seeing it. Two amorphous old-school animated gents run about in the foreground, while a background plane of various exterior settings acts as the texture for their blank bodies. These settings both express our characters’ emotions and allow them to argue, ogle, entertain, and otherwise communicate with one another. It is a delight to behold, and seems entirely original.

Unfortunately, half way through the characters’ bodies settle on a radio mast, and a voice over informs us that critics are only deriding 3D in the cinema because they are afraid of change, of the new. Frankly, I was insulted. If Toy Story 3 had fulfilled the promise of that short, and actually depended in some substantial way on the format, it would have been legitimate. Unfortunately for Pixar, they come across as complete hypocrites.

 

Toy Story 3, dir. Lee Unkrich, wri. Michael Arndt et al., star. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack et al., US; released 23/07/2010

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Written by James P. Campbell

19/06/2010 at 17:36

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