Thursday, June 17, 2010
It didn’t strike me until several minutes after I had left the theater, but the “Toy Story” films -- "Part 3" opening June 18 throughout San Diego -- are one of only a handful of franchises that have been tailored specifically for my generation.
The first two films explored the wondrous world of Andy’s toys when both he and I were in the prime of our childhoods. Now, Andy is 17 and on the eve of heading off to college; a place I found myself heading off to not too long ago. Perhaps it’s this convenient position I find myself in as a viewer that explains my affinity for these characters even 15 years after they first hit the big screen. It may also explains why the weight of what these films have to say (especially this most recent one) hits so hard because unlike older viewers that have to look back on that time or younger viewers that can only imagine being there in the future, I actually am right in sync with Andy.
"Toy Story 3" sees Andy on his way off to college and the toys are of course anxious about what this will mean for them. As always, Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) does his best to calm down the troops and even tries to persuade them to see the benefits of a life packed away in the attic. As Andy continues packing, he’s finally forced to make a decision about his old plastic friends and so, unable to completely let go, ties them all up in a bag for the attic; all but Woody that is, after Andy decides to bring just him along to college. However, through an unfortunate series of events, the bag finds its ways to the curb for garbage collection, forcing the toys to escape and making them believe Andy intended to throw them out. Spurned and unable to heed Woody’s insistence that they’re making a huge mistake, the toys opt to be donated instead to a place called Sunnyside Day Care.
On first glance, Sunnyside seems ideal as the gang is welcomed in by a host of new toys, including a big pink bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) as well as a swinging Ken doll (Michael Keaton) who finds an ideal partner in the newly donated Barbie. But the toys soon discover that things are not as perfect as they seem. And so, once more, the toys must band together to bust out of Sunnyside and return home before Andy heads off once and for all to college.
Three films into the franchise, some of the series’ tricks start to be a little more obvious than one would hope for. Once again the toys must hatch an escape plot and once again there is a general sense of distrust amongst the toys that, if ameliorated earlier, would’ve solved a lot of problems for later on. But then again one of the staples of this series has been how it’s dealt so thoroughly and effectively with issues of abandonment, insecurity, and the need to be loved. After all, what else does a toy have to concern itself with in life but its relationship with its owner? Of course, part of the genius of Pixar is the way it’s managed to turn those “its” into living, breathing, thinking beings that, no matter how silly or possibly juvenile, we the audience hold them dear.
While “Toy Story 3” has a lot to offer on levels of pure entertainment and nostalgia, it’s not until it moves into its final stretch that it arrives at a place much rougher, darker, and more honest (if still somewhat sentimental) than I expected. It was precisely at that point that this turned from a really good movie into a great one. You can gripe about some of the film’s fairly obvious ploys to jolt a few easy yet hearty laughs from kids and adults alike (the Ken-Barbie romance; Buzz Lightyear gone Spanish) but in the end “Toy Story 3” is a film about one of the most difficult moments we face. It’s a film about letting go, about saying goodbye to a part of your life you’ll never quite be able to get back while at the same time hoping to somehow preserve it or pass it on so as to help someone else to enjoy that part of life for themselves. And that makes this film the perfect note to end this series on, bringing with it a sense of closure for a generation who, not too long ago, first fell in love with Woody, Buzz, and the gang.
Oh, and be sure to get there on time and check out the wonderful opening short, “Night and Day”. Extra Pixar goodness. Need I say more?
-Michael Shymon just finished his freshman year at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where he's studying Film & Television Production. He's hoping one day all this movie watching will finally pay off. While he's home for summer break in San Diego, he'll be resuming his duties as a KPBS Teen Critic.