Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Toy Story 3 ****
Director: Lee Unkrich
Ignoring the fact that toys coming to life is actually kind of creepy, Pixar Animation studios delivered two of the most wonderful films of the last twenty years in the shape of the first Toy Story movies.
Counting on much more than their stunning animation and visuals, the films were altogether more surprising because each installment actually had something to say.
What's certainly even more impressive is that in the third, and seemingly final, chapter of the series, the filmmakers have actually outdone themselves and deliver a film of such depth and humanity that it's hard to believe it deals with characters made out of plastic.
When the film begins, Andy is packing to go to college. His mom advises him to throw, donate or store his belongings which include his childhood toys. Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang become concerned for their future given how Andy hasn't played with them for years.
During the going away hassle they end up in a children's daycare where they try to accept the fact that Andy has forgotten all about them.
There they meet new toys and come to believe that the daycare will turn into an eternal utopia where children will play with them forever; but things soon change as they discover a corrupt system deep within the innocent facade.
Woody meanwhile is trying to get back to Andy by all means and like in the previous films embarks on a journey back home.
With a deceptively simple premise Toy Story 3 proves that hell perhaps might not be at the end of a conveyor belt carrying garbage, as the characters fear during one crucial moment, but in the idea of being forgotten.
While the previous movies dealt with growing old and accepting change, this one maturely embraces a subject that has mystified artists throughout history: their own mortality.
Therefore, the film beautifully unites themes it started examining fifteen years ago and recurring to an array of storytelling techniques ties the whole trilogy together (the aesthetic choice of closing the trilogy with a "real life" representation of the first image we saw back in Toy Story is not only a tear trigger but a moment of pure artistic genius).
If letting go wasn't difficult enough, throughout the movie we're reminded of why these characters came to matter so much. Despite being objects they represent our memories (in a way linking themselves, at least on the surface, to the Lacanian concept of what's real) things we may not even know are there but have such meanings that we can't give them up.
It's safe to say that for a generation that grew up watching these movies, Toy Story 3 will serve as a strange meta experiment: the final movie about characters wondering what will happen to them during their final days.
Perhaps like Denys Arcand's superb history trilogy, Pixar's three-parter would make a fascinating basis for an Existentialism 101 course.
Of course the film provides ample entertainment for younger audiences, who might not get all the references (just the movie ones include The Great Escape, Indiana Jones and at least a couple John Ford Westerns) but will still be wowed by the thrilling way in which the setpieces are executed (the opening sequence is more exciting than any so called adventure flick released during a regular blockbuster season).
This time Pixar slightly succumbs to the idea that animated movies must feature contemporary jokes to have an effect on young audiences but they do so with such class and selfconsciousness that it's obvious they're not trying to make business out of it but are giving us glimpses of how in times of desperation we recur to unexpected maneuvers.
Notice then how by film's end, all the characters have returned to being who they always were, the popular references and such, being but rushed midlife crises of sorts showcased to deal with endings.
Cynics might say that the Toy Story series made a name of itself manipulating universal human emotions and using toys to create empathy for materialism; but the truth of the matter is that while Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman struggled throughout their filmographies to find a meaning in humanity's struggles with mortality, Toy Story looks at it straight in the eye, even playfully, and with unexpected maturity reminds us that maybe we should just stick to doing our best while we're still here.