Damn you, Pixar!
How am I supposed to uphold my tough-guy image when you reduce me to such a mess with virtually every release.
‘Field of Dreams‘ used to be the benchmark in getting choked up for a film, then came Toy Story in 1995. After that, an endless parade of heart-in-the pictures followed that have literally left me with pumpkin-sized protrusions in the throat.
‘Toy Story 3’ is just the latest example of their ability to wring emotions in essentially every frame.
In this outing, Andy, or boy hero of the first two films, is off to college and is packing up 17 years of belongings to either accompany him to college, be placed in the attic, sent to curb or donated to a local daycare facility. A mixup sends the majority of the toys for the garbage pickup, but our resourceful protagonists (Woody, Buzz, Jessie, the Potato Heads, Slinky Dog, etc.) find a way to wind up at Sunnyside, a nursery which holds hopes of constant attention from the pint-sized packs that attend daily.
Yet Sunnyside has a cloudy lining in the form of Lots-O-Huggin Bear (wonderfully voiced by Ned Beatty), a seemingly grandfatherly figure who harbours ill will of his castaway status. And soon, they are again in search of escaping to be with their human owner.
It almost feels like a disservice to call the folks who pen the script writers. For they are storytellers, which is a craft unto itself that goes beyond the mere act of stringing together words.
And the stories told are simplistic, but universal.
Whatever labels you decide to bestow on the film, please do not let “kiddie flick” be one. Oh sure, the kids will chortle, flinch and smile in all the right places, but parents will be treated to so much more, for the film – like all Pixar releases – deals with matters far beyond the Spongebob set. “Letttng go,” “moving on” “abandonment” and even weight of our own existence is subtly slipped in the narrative.
Repeatedly, I had to remind myself that these were not just toys, but digitized reproductions of toys that I invested in so deeply. ‘Toy Story 3‘ understands what the ‘Shrek‘ franchise (and countless other non-animated sequels) misses time and time again. It explores the relationship between our leads while marginally weaving new characters in the mix (the aforementioned Lots-O-Huggin, and a pitch-perfect Michael Keaton as an outdated Ken doll).
I have not gone into any of the voicework, yet, and will sum up by saying it is universally excellent.
Pixar has staked itself deeply in the art of not only making movies, but the experience of moviegoing. For their films are ones that pull out emotions at unexpected times, causing a simultaneous burst of laughter or tears from rows of complete strangers and all members of a family. Sure, all films attempt this in one degree or another, or hone in on one particular demographic, but there has never been a studio that has kept its entire audience in its scope.
But I don’t want to give the impression that “Toy Story 3” is a complete sob-fest, for there are moments as thrilling as any in “The Great Escape” or adventurous as “Star Wars” (two of the many films it pays tribute to). It is also a testament to the power of friendship. There is perhaps no stronger scene than one in which the pals face an insurmountable feat and clasp hands together in a show of unity. If that scene passes without a goosebumps on your body, it’s pulse-checking time.
It’s hard to imagine there will come a film — animated or live action — this summer as satisfying on as many levels as ‘Toy Story 3,’ but perhaps I underestimate the emotional impact of ‘Space Chimps 2,’ ‘Dinner for Schmucks,’ or ‘Step-Up 3-D.’
That’s fine. The next Pixar release is only a year away.