Is it possible for me to be objective in this critique? I am not sure. The Toy Story franchise has become one of the ways in which members of Generation Y have measured their lives. All of us were still in elementary school when the films were originally released (I was eight when the original was released) and have seen Pixar evolve into the powerhouse it remains to be. The themes associated with the film, about aging and attempting to find your place in the world, are especially resonating. With people my age being directly spoken too, is it possible that I will ignore the flaws and just be caught in the spectacle?
Well, I am going to try to review it properly, emotional investment be damned.
The film starts with home movie footage of Andy playing with his toys. This is quickly replaced with the present situation; Andy (John Morris) is now 17 and headed off to college in a week. The toys, including Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) Woody (Tom Hanks), Slink Dog (Blake Clark, replacing the late Jim Varney), and Rex (Wallace Shawn), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and others are stuck in the toy box, desperately trying to get Andy’s attention. They are starting to realize that Andy is outgrowing them and become content with a life in the attic. Yet, due to a mistake, they believe they are destined for the garbage and end up sneaking away to the Sunnyside Daycare Center. Once there, the teddy bear Lotso (Ned Beatty) and Ken (Michael Keaton) show them a paradise where children never outgrow them. However, they end up in a room where they are constantly abused realize the mistake they’ve made and try to go back to Andy before he leaves forever.
What is incredible to see is how much technology has improved. The original Toy Story looks absolutely quaint; this film throws out everything possible. Except in 3D, because 3D is a gimmick that has already run its course. I realize now why 3D only ends up hurting my eyes. There’s something in photography called “depth of vision” in which certain items are deliberately kept out of focus to make people aware of what the photograph is actually about. A photograph in 3D would not have that option; everything must be in focus. The result is that superfluous information is brought to life and ends up creating a sensory overload. And wouldn’t you know it? Motion PICTURES work in the same way. I saw it in 3D and ended up taking my glasses off at certain times just so I could prevent migraines.
But I realize this is not Pixar’s fault (it is James Cameron’s) so I will let them slide. It still looks beautiful, keeping that same cartoonish aesthetic (in which the toys look just as real as the people who play with them) and the story still manages to adjust to the times effectively. The toys have clearly “aged,” what would have been impressive in 1995 would definitely show age today. Buzz Lightyear no longer views himself as the top of the line, even when he goes back to his original state (and his multilingual version, which leads to some of the films biggest gags). It would have been, perhaps, useful to show a child’s obsession with iPod, but the themes of aging still get across to the point where the audience of the film is no longer children, but people who watched the first movie in 1995 at age eight. The second act is also a good tribute to prison escape movies, borrowing heavily from The Great Escape with a little waxing philosophical from Grand Illusion.
But is it necessarily a better film than the other two? Sadly…no. I have never seen a trilogy maintain the momentum throughout, and the third film in particular tends to be the weakest entry. This is no exception. The main problem is that the toys never try to expand beyond their roles as toys. You would think that, as time went on, they would evolve themselves. It does appear that toys have emotions and can suffer loss (Lotso, Jessie, etc) but they never move beyond their roles. They exist only to be played with, nothing more. Very little is made of the loss of some of the characters (including Bo Peep) and Woody seems to exist to be loyal to a fault. I would call it a hubris but he is not punished for it. Also, the villain is pretty much the same one from Toy Story 2 (right down to the dislike of children) and thus it feels like the series is retreading new ground. I know that many franchises seek to repeat themselves, and Toy Story 3 is not nearly as guilty as, say, Friday the 13th Part VIII but it still did not feel as fresh.
This is still a good movie. The most I can do is quote Andy’s final line: “Thanks guys.” I am glad the movie exists. Even if it does not have the same human touch as the first two films (and some of Pixar’s other films) it is still a fine closure to the series and gave me an opportunity to revisit important figures of my generation’s childhood. I am usually not the person to ask when discussing the strengths of nostalgia. But sometimes, even if for a little while, it is fun to go back.