12 July 2010

TOY STORY 3 WEEK- The Spoiler-Free Review

You might not realise it, but it's been a good eleven years since Toy Story 2. Toy Story 3 thus finds an all but grown-up Andy packing his bags for college. His toys have been packed in storage for a good while, and many of their number have been thrown away or passed on. Woody the cowboy looks set to be taken along to college, and so Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the toys donate themselves to the Sunnyside Daycare Centre, Woody trying to keep the gang together all the way.

To say much more would be to rob you of the experience of letting the film unfold before you. If you're any kind of fan of this series, then Toy Story 3 should be the film that takes you back to your youth more than any other in 2010. Director Lee Unkrich and writer Michael Arndt have found a perfect balance in treating the characters we know and love in new and original ways while still bringing in scores of new characters, and never short changing any of them.

Let's take a moment to compare that to another recent animated sequel. It almost feels like picking on Shrek Forever After when its most relevant competitor is a Pixar film (especially this Pixar film), but just look at what went into that. There's been a Shrek film every three years, like clockwork, since 2001. In the time Dreamworks took to make one really good film, two fairly average sequels and an absolute stinker in the middle, Pixar lovingly crafted just one sequel to one of their most beloved properties and made it damn near perfect.

The story hits some of the same beats as we've seen before, but as I've said, the joy of Toy Story 3 is how differently its all brought forward. We get the now regular Buzz malfunction, but it makes for a great comic relief aside as the second act action ploughs forward. The crisis of ownership from the second film comes to the fore in a big way here, but while the earlier plot turns dealt with the idea of immortality, this one's dealing very much in the realm of Dante's Inferno. For toys.

And d'you know which of the characters should be singled out here? Mr. Potato Head. Pixar make it look so effortless that it might have been planned all along, but it's quite important that one point that the respective parts of the Potato Heads move independently of their brown plastic shells. It's a tremendously creative sequence in the middle of a tremendously creative film, and one that uses such body horror quite liberally, for a change.

More than expected, they're playing with horror conventions in this one. Certain new characters could be downright nightmare fuel for younger viewers, but there's always that level of subversion that keeps the proceedings warm and funny. It is a nice touch for older viewers though, who perhaps even more than before can be as engrossed in the action as their younger companions and offspring.
The studio has come into a reputation for tear-jerking since Toy Story 2, liberally tugging at heartstrings in the likes of WALL•E and Up, and with Toy Story 3, there's no exceptions. I've heard various people admit to crying their hearts out at various points in the film, so if you know and like these characters, there's no telling where the film will get you. It would be a spoiler to tell you where it got me, but there's not a lot of shame in admitting that it did get me.

It may seem odd to some who've heard the advance buzz that I haven't mentioned Michael Keaton's performance as a Ken doll. His great vocal work complements a scene-stealing character excellently, but what also distinguishes Pixar as the best studio around is how they get real talents to do voices rather than big names. Stars as high-profile as Tom Hanks are practically invisible here. Hanks is excellent of course, as are Tim Allen, Ned Beatty, Timothy Dalton and the rest, but they're also subtle.
The only use you have for 3D glasses in this one is to hide the tears, a use that might have served you while watching Up last year as well. But all quibbling about the technology aside, it really didn't seem like this was in 3D at all. That's not to say that I forgot I was watching a 3D film, but that it seemed to make no difference. Naturally, I'm really looking forward to seeing Toy Story 3 in 2D, where the richly rendered visuals won't be impeded by a pair of plastic specs.

Don't doubt it for a second- Toy Story 3 is the must-see family film of the year. Hell, it eclipses most action films for thrills and spills, so if you don't have young ones in your immediate family circle, go and see it with some of your friends instead. But most of all, it preserves the same sense of humour and compelling storytelling that made its predecessors so great, capping off the story of some of the best-loved characters of an entire generation. Without a bit of hyperbole, I feel sorry for you if you're not going to see this one.

Toy Story 3 opens in cinemas, showing in 2D and 3D, on July 19th. Toy Story 3 Week continues tomorrow.

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