Toy Story 3
If only for the merciful absence of a Randy Newman dirge (until the end credits), this might be the best of the trilogy. Well, what used to be a trilogy. Indeed, Toy Story 3 is superior to the previous two on almost every level until the last five minutes, which retrospectively tarnishes a fairly sentiment-light tale that also has a – surprisingly – strong emphasis on plotting, given the previous ones told the same basic tale. Even this one feels obligated to reuse several key story points.
Because, as per usual, mishaps rather than out-and-out intent lead to the toys’ unfortunate circumstances (in two, it’s accidentally ending up in the yard sale that results in Woody being stolen). Where Buzz and Woody each previously ended up in perilous predicaments, this time it’s the entire gang of them, dropped off at Sunnyside Daycare when Andy, about to flee the nest for college, leaves a binbag bound for the attic on the landing and mom assumes it’s to be thrown out. And as per the previous instalment, an apparently benign old toy (then Stinky Pete, now bear Lotso, voiced by Ned Beatty) turns out to be an evil bastard determined to subject the new arrivals to perdition in the toddlers’ room (they aren’t age appropriate).
Indeed, director Lee Unkrich, earning his first solo credit after shared duties on Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, supervises a tale that frequently flirts with the nightmarish; it’s a refreshing change from the relative sunshine and roses of previous outings. This may also partly be screenwriter Michael Arndt’s influence, on the Pixar team since WALL-E; in an echo of Toy Story 2’s process, the screenplay was completed after an abandoned mid-00s attempt by Disney to get a Toy Story 3 off the ground, which eventually reverted to Pixar.
The scene in which monstrous toddlers descend on the familiar toys – it has to be asked, how is it that Andy appears to have come into possession of no new ones during the previous decade? – with a frenzied disrespect is quite horrifying, while the climax takes the toys to the precipice of their own Dante’s Inferno as they await certain doom in a trash incinerator.
In terms of the surprisingly robust interest in plotting, the mystery element of what’s going on at Sunnyside leads Buzz to a nocturnal excursion culminating in his being reset to factory settings. Later there’s a first-rate escape bid, courtesy of the returning Woody (who has ended up at the house of a typically – annoyingly – uber-cute Pixar moppet), which includes the need to overcome a monkey granted oversight of a Big Brother surveillance system.
Some of the big character ideas here aren’t quite the knockout the makers clearly think they are. Enjoyable as they are initially, both Ken (Michael Keaton) and reset Spanish Buzz outstay their welcome. And as far as readings go, amusing as it is, I’m not entirely convinced by the Illuminati take on the movie either, based on an odd line (“Lotso made us into a pyramid and put himself at the top”), unless we’re to believe that Sunnyside represents a fallen, tarnished reality with Lotso as its demiurge…
By this point too, there’s something faintly objectionable about the “toys as willing slaves to humans” concept; if they have autonomous will and consciousness, finding fulfilment through a life of servitude and ultimate rejection ought to be seen as unconscionable, not praiseworthy (or is that precisely the intention? Is this a Forrest Gump-esque vision of how dire existence is – the toys stand-ins for our own futility – one masked in sentimental uplift?) Instead, it’s the villains who voice ideas that make philosophical sense but are ultimately rejected – “No owner means no heartbreak” – in favour of emotional clinginess.
There’s another rejected toy flashback, but in the psychology of the piece, Lotso only disdains receiving love and attention from humans due to his bad experience (rather like Stinky Pete being left on the shelf), not because he perceives something inherently flawed in the system. Likewise, per Toy Story 2, there’s a sense of Old Testament justice about the punishment inflicted on those who have done wrong to our hero toys; an eternity of damnation awaits, tied to a fender or trapped in the toddler section.
Scene by scene, though, this third instalment flows more satisfyingly (despite the incremental increases in running time – this is twenty minutes longer than the first). Naturally, it features the usual sharp gags and lines (“Hey! No one steals my wife’s mouth – except me!” exclaims Mr Potato Head; “We’re either in a café in Paris or a coffee shop in New Jersey” Woody is told at his new owner’s house, amid a bout of improv). If the final scene, in which Andy gifts his toys to moppet Bonnie and tells her all about them, is indigestible garbage – indigestible garbage that caused the Variety critic to cry, but frankly, I’d rather have a heart of stone, if that’s the state of affairs for affecting fare – I suppose it also draws attention to how, relatively, free of such elements the preceding ninety minutes are.
Further illustrating how out of touch I am, Toy Story 3 took home two Oscars, one of which was somehow bestowed upon Randy Newman’s We Belong Together. It was nominated for Best Picture too (and Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Animated Feature), only the third time – after Beauty and the Beast and Up – that’s occurred for an animated film, which made it a shoe-in for winning Best Animated Feature. Being a philistine, I preferred DreamWorks’ offering that year, How to Train Your Dragon (I’ve yet to see Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist).