Sunday, July 11, 2010
**Spoilers Included** In 1995 "Toy Story," the first full length feature film presented entirely in CGI, was released and wowed audiences with its technical brilliance and excellent storytelling. Unlike most animated film series', Pixar took it slow and didn't rush the release of successive films and it shows in the craftsmanship of this third installment. The movie has been out for almost a month now and it's no secret that it has been critically hailed and currently carries a "fresh" score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes -- beating out "The Dark Knight" by 5% on their aggregate scale. So it may be redundant for me to throw in my recommendation but it's never a waste of time to give some respect to a film that is so good that it leaves the competition looking like they're still trying to decipher the formula that "Toy Story" has perfected. Animated films are often a standby when it comes to summer movie going. Disney set the standard early on with stories that could be enjoyed by adults and children alike. But sequels tend to be uneven whether they're live action or CGI. The "Shrek" franchise produced its fourth installment this summer to mixed reviews and box office returns, that while good, were still not as high as what the last two movies had earned in the opening weekends. So sequel fatigue could have easily been catching if Pixar hadn't stuck to the basic premise that made the original "Toy Story" so good-- but they did and "Toy Story 3" feels very much like the final chapter of a most satisfying sequence of films that have a clear beginning, middle and end. The casting of "Toy Story" has been remarkably consistent over the last 15 years and we've watched the story of Woody and Buzz Lightyear, as voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, progress through the childhood of Andy Davis (John Morris) who is now a young man getting ready to leave for college. The basic premise of "Toy Story" has always been the same-- the devotion Woody and Buzz feel toward their young owner and the lengths they'll go to in order to be there for him. But Andy has reached the age where he is too old to play with children's toys anymore and as he packs up for college, the fate of his favorite old toys seems to be a trip to the attic-- at best. However, after a series of misunderstandings, the toys find themselves at the Sunnyside Daycare center. At first it seems like the start of a new life of endless playtime with the children at the daycare center, but it isn't long before they realize they are at the mercy of a tyrannical teddy bear named Lots-O (Ned Beatty). Soon the old group of toys, including Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris and Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Barbie (Jodie Benson) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) find themselves squared off against Lots-O and his group of thuggish toys and a Buzz Lightyear stuck in "demo" mode. Woody, as is often the case, finds himself temporarily stranded and at odds with the rest of the toys, but his underlying loyalty reasserts itself, as always, and he rushes to help his friends find their way back to their beloved Andy. "Toy Story 3" is an absolute sister to the other films in the franchise because they all have so many elements in common but, somehow, the pattern never gets old. In addition to the rush to return to Andy, we once again we see the core group of characters interacting with a new group of toys and get to watch their developing dynamic-- this time Ken (Michael Keaton) steals the show. The movie is also unabashedly sentimental. It's not just a story that reaches out to the child in all of us who has ever had a favorite toy, but tugs at the parent watching their children grow up and move on to their adult life. You have to be made of stone not to tear up a little bit while watching "Toy Story 3" -- I know I did. "Toy Story 3" is a testament to consistently first-rate film making we've come to expect from Pixar. From "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and "Up"-- to "Toy Story 3" -- Pixar has delivered some of the best summer fare over the last 15 years and I'm glad I took the time to take my kids to this wonderful movie. It's been a fairly dreary summer movie season so far, and a flamenco dancing Buzz Lightyear added a much-needed boost. "Toy Story 3" delivers on every level, with terrific storytelling, humor and emotional depth. This one definitely gets my highest recommendation.