When “Toy Story” appeared in 1995, seemingly out of nowhere, it immediately presented itself as the future of children-oriented cinema. It was Pixar’s first, and crowning, achievement; a breathing, gorgeous rendition of a child’s reality. I remember seeing it at 10 years old and being fascinated with the curve of the figures, the computer-generated shadows, and the cartoonish representations of some of my favorite childhood toys.
Directed by: Lee Unkrich
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
Seen at: AMC Loew’s Boston Common
The story wasn’t half bad, either. “Toy Story” was first and foremost about the power of imagination. It described a universe where toys not only came to life, but yearned to be friends and loved ones to the children who possessed them. It’s a beautiful sentiment.
I didn’t see “Toy Story 2,” or if I did, I don’t remember it at all. Chances are it has faded into the mists of my own childhood, buried under memories of birthday parties and fights with my little brother. But “Toy Story 3” does not list the first two movies as prerequisites. It is its own man, so to speak, and the remarkable thing is it stands very well, and very charmingly, on its own.
The first chance they took with the film was keeping the story in real time. In this episode, Andy has grown from a doe-eyed boy to a 17-year-old on his way to college. His toys, led by cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), haven’t been played with for years. Their demeanor is that of long-time employees facing possible layoffs — will they be safe in the attic, or are they relegated to the garbage bag? “Toy Story” has always been good at farce-style mishaps, and it’s through a series of mistakes that the toys end up at a day care center, run by Lotso Love (Ned Beatty, a genial-seeming pink bear).
The whole abandoned-toy shtick is a little melodramatic, but it’s lightened immensely by the characters. Lotso runs the day care much the way a mob boss runs a corrupt trade union (the new toys are relegated to the Caterpillar Room, to be mauled and dented by the smaller children, while the veteran toys get to lounge around in the older kid’s playroom.) There’s a sexually ambiguous Ken doll (Michael Keaton, in his best work since “Beetlejuice”), and a method actor porcupine aptly named Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton? What are you doing here?!) Though written by four different people, the lines are consistently funny and touching by turns. Is it weird that I really care what happens to Jessie? Because it feels so right.
Because I wear glasses and have an unfortunate predisposition to mind-bending migraines, I’m not the biggest fan of 3D. That said, these are some of the least-offensive 3D effects I’ve seen — the animators seem more intent on shaping the scenes rather than simply having them pop out at you. The animation, as usual with Pixar, is gorgeously rendered, with a meticulous eye for perfection I can’t even begin to comprehend. I envy these animators gift to create space, depth and proportion, with little details that just make it better, like Rex the Dinosaur’s delicately worn tail, slightly bent from too many hours being played with.
This is the film that meets the grown-ups who originally loved “Toy Story” as children. It’s funny, sweet and slightly sad to be facing adulthood. But there’s a new generation that will also love “Toy Story 3.” The smartest thing the creators did was make sure that those who hadn’t seen the first two films could follow the third with little difficulty. The ending of “Toy Story 3” seems to address this head on in the conclusion of the film. The world only spins forward, it seems to say. But in terms of this movie, there’s certainly no harm in looking back.