It’s old news that Pixar is able to take their family friendly characters – adorable bugs, monsters and robots – and endow them with real depth and emotionality. They can do this better than just about anyone else in the business, whether working with actual live people or no.
Still, there’s a scene towards the end of Toy Story 3 that came out of nowhere and shook me to the bone. They push these characters, these plastic and plush toys, into a place that make you feel heartbreak and compassion, while evoking existential questions of what comes at the end, and can we really move on? It’s powerful, it’s absurdly powerful. And, let’s just say I was happy to have a pair of dark 3D glasses to hide my eyes behind while it all happened.
I’d tell you that you’ll know this scene when you see it, but the truth is I just described at least two different sequences in Toy Story 3. And even when the movie isn’t playing with your heart like an old piece of silly putty, it’s doing everything that it can to make you edge to the tip of your seat, laugh, and feel like a kid again.
Thematically, Toy Story 3 picks up right where 2 left off, begging the question – what happens when Andy doesn’t want to play with them anymore? It’s an idea packed with real-life emotion, something anyone who’s been in any sort of relationship can link to. And now that Andy’s headed to college, the toys can’t put the question off much longer; Woody even admits he’s giving up on Andy at the beginning of the film.
As the film goes on, it covers virtually every genre and every base; it will work for any audience imaginable. Pixar can throw these hats on at a moment’s notice and make everything work with flying colors. These assholes just make it look so easy.
And you can appreciate it for each of these traits – just take the action sequences. It feels like an afterthought after its swelling, bursting third act, but this is a fucking great action film! There’s an escape scene that lasts for a half hour that never gets boring or extraneous – it never drops the ball and keeps you glued to the screen. It’s very unlikely there’ll be a better action piece this summer, and I’m not just saying that because this is had been an awful summer for movies.
And the visuals! No one ever comes close to matching Pixar’s vision. They’ve got the technical proficiency (they do some crazy stuff with lighting and texture), and animation (the bulky, plastic Buzz Lightyear salsas dances with the delicacy of a ballerina) skills mastered far beyond what anyone else out there is doing. It may star plastic pieces in a design aesthetic that’s unfortunately dated back to 1995, but the film never for a second stops looking great.
And can we talk about the humor? It’s not a comedy, but there’s so much gleefully cinematic humor here – from reveals, character designs and framing – that kept me laughing at all the right moments. And that’s without the great one-liners that only Pixar can make sound refreshing, as opposed to forced.
It doesn’t hurt that these are characters I grew up with. I was eight-years-old when the first Toy Story came out, and it was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I, like so many others, could get on the same wavelength as Woody and Buzz, while totally falling for periphery characters like Slinky Dog and the abominable Rex, voiced by a Wallace Shawn that seems incapable of not stealing any scene he’s in. And while we don’t spend enough time with the new characters, they all feel just as realized as the series regulars.
Is it a perfect movie? I mean, I coulda gone without hearing the three-eyed aliens oo000ohh “the claw!” a couple of times. But yeah, it’s close enough.
Anytime a new Pixar movie comes out, people inevitably talk about how, yet again, the animation power house has put together something with real emotional depth, that bring out the kid in adults and might even make us cry a little. Which is why I kind of dread saying the same thing about Toy Story 3. It might sound like just another Pixar film – sure, it’s great, but what else would you expect?
But this isn’t just another great movie along the lines of Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles and everything else. This is, by far, the most successful and powerful film they’ve given us yet.