Forgive me, folks.
This is an embarrassing predicament, and an untimely one, coming as it does during my one-hundred-and-first "Kicking the Seat" review.
I’m fighting through a debilitating case of writer’s block. Since watching Toy Story 3 three days ago, I’ve swept probably fifteen drafts of this review into a “Ctrl +A” net and scrapped them without a second thought.
If you’ve ever wondered if it’s easier to write a negative review than a positive one, the answer is “Yes”. That’s not to say that it’s more fun to scathingly critique something: I saw Johah Hex yesterday, and came home prepared to set the keyboard on fire with derisive witticisms, but a block is a block is a block.
At issue here is the fact that some movies should just be recommended and not written about to death. I have no passion for telling you about all the wonderful parts of Toy Story 3, but as a critic I can’t not write about it. In the same way I shouldn’t have to sell you on having an orgasm, I should just be able to say, “Go see Toy Story 3. Now.”
I will say that I’m amazed at Pixar’s ability to put out a second sequel that is possibly better than the original film. When I first heard Toy Story 3 was in development, the studio’s near-flawless track record still couldn’t keep my eyes from rolling reflexively. What the movie gets is that the best sequels pick up after significant time has passed (either in real life or in movie time), allowing the audience to see the characters at different stages in their lives and dealing with new problems; it can be a meta experience, as the audience has grown and learned, and may have a different outlook than when they saw the first film.
I’m thinking specifically of Rocky Balboa and Clerks 2; both odd choices to reference in a cartoon movie review, but they’re absolutely appropriate. Like those films, Toy Story 3 picks up more than a decade after the last movie, and finds its characters in a rut. The world has moved on, but they are oblivious to what that means. The plot forces them to break out of their comfort zones and reconnect with their inner strength in order to thrive (survive, even). Rocky Balboa was about rekindling the spark of youth; Clerks 2 was about taking control of one’s destiny; Toy Story 3 is about growing up and moving on.
The fact that the movie is actually about something separates it from many of the other animated movies we’ve seen this year. Yes, there are lessons in How to Train Your Dragon and, I suppose, in Shrek Forever After (which I’ve not seen), but Toy Story 3 delves deep into the psychology of the toy and its relationship to the child who owns it. The story outline is nothing we haven’t seen before: the toys break out of Andy’s (John Morris) bedroom and have a whacky adventure trying to get back home—and somewhere along the line, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) changes personalities for the sole purpose of creating conflict with Woody (Tom Hanks) and/or Woody’s plans.
What’s new is the sharp left turn that story takes by introducing two new genres to this kiddie adventure/comedy series: horror movies and prison films. As Andy prepares to leave for college, his mom inadvertently donates a box full of his toys to the local daycare center. Serving as a dumping ground for unwanted toys, the place is packed with new playmates for our heroes—from cute infant baubles to a Ken doll (Michael Keaton) and the kindly old Lotso Lovin’ Bear (Ned Beatty). Woody, Buzz, and the gang quickly find out that daycare is like a prison, and they’re the new bitches on the cell block.
As a horror movie nut, I really appreciated director Lee Unkrich’s bizarre insertion of truly disturbing scenes. Particularly in Lotso’s origin story and during the devastatingly nail-biting climax, he sucks out all of the candy-colored wonder in favor of lightning storms, abandonment terrors and the kind of staring-death-in-the-face-together bonding usually reserved for Holocaust pictures.
Aside from that, Toy Story 3 is a very funny, engaging movie. It runs a bit too long (thanks, in part, to the Buzz Lightyear personality problem—which is noticeably excessive here), but I was thoroughly satisfied leaving the theatre. The best compliment I can give the film is that it made me feel like a kid again, when my biggest worry was how to build a fort for my action figures out cardboard boxes, Scotch tape and markers. But don’t take my word for it.
Go see Toy Story 3. Now.
Note: Don’t waste your money seeing Toy Story 3 in 3-D. Like last year’s Up, this movie is so dimensional in both its animation and writing that if you need that extra bit of stimulation to stay involved, you should probably be watching The A-Team instead.
Additional Note: It’s true what they say: When artists and writers get blocked, the best thing to do is start writing or scribbling; eventually, something will come out. I don’t know is this qualifies as a review in the strictest sense, but it's much more coherent than anything I’ve written in the last few days.
It’s also longer and contains actual sentences.