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Film Club: ‘Toy Story 3’

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The summer movie season is well underway. On this KPBS Film Club of the Air, we'll discuss a movie about illicit love among modern Italian aristocrats, a film noir mystery that’s set in the unlikely locale of the Ozarks, a controversial and brutal film based on one of pulp fictions most notorious classics, and "Toy Story 3?" Yes. It all begins now on the KPBS Film Club of the Air. I’d like to welcome my guests. Beth Accomando is the KPBS film critic and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. Beth, good morning.

BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Scott Marks is the author of the film blog Emulsioncompulsion.com. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT MARKS (Author, Emulsioncompulsion.com): Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Anders Wright…

ACCOMANDO: You’re too perky.

CAVANAUGH: …is the film critic for San Diego CityBeat. Hi, Anders.

ANDERS WRIGHT (Film Critic, San Diego CityBeat): Good to see you, Maureen.

MARKS: Anders won’t play along.

WRIGHT: No.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m going into “Toy Story” so I have to keep that up, the thing going. We begin with Pixar’s 3-D animation. It’s “Toy Story 3.” As it begins, Andy’s toys have stayed the same since the last “Toy Story” movie years ago but Andy is all grown up. He’s headed off to college, and the toy gang, that includes Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jesse are afraid it’s attic time for all of them. What actually happens is even worse, and the gang is forced to break out of a daycare center where they’re donated. In this clip from “Toy Story 3,” Sheriff Woody and the gang first meet the toys at the daycare center who explain how things work at their new home.

(audio clip from the film “Toy Story 3”)

CAVANAUGH: That is a clip from “Toy Story 3” and you heard the voices of Wallace Shawn, Tom Hanks and Ned Beatty and others. Beth, Kenneth Turan from the LA Times and NPR actually said Pixar is the only sure thing in movies today. From what I’ve read, the quality, you know, in this movie has remained high throughout these sequels. Would you agree with that?

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I mean, the quality’s been consistent. I wouldn’t go so far as that Pixar’s the only sure thing. I think that’s a little overblown.

MARKS: I don’t think they saw “Cars.”

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I don’t think…

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …yeah, “Cars.” I’m not a huge fan of all of the Pixar films but, I mean, I do think the quality is consistent among the – especially through the “Toy Story” films. In fact, maybe part of the problem is it’s been too consistent in the sense that the stories themselves feel very familiar in the three. But it’s an enjoyable film. I – I mean, I have this thing for toys anyway. I’ve always believed my toys were alive when I wasn’t in the room with them and I remember my son, the first time he bagged his toys – Yeah, I know, make the loony sign. The first time my son bagged his toys to give them away, we put them in the garage to bring them to – I think we were bringing them to Father Joe’s and Tony went into the garage and poked holes in all the garbage bags to make sure that the toys could breathe.

CAVANAUGH: They could breathe, of course.

ACCOMANDO: So, I mean, seeing these films – I mean, that’s the appeal of the “Toy Story” films to me, is that childlike notion that you have that, you know, what are your toys doing when you’re not watching them, and I think that’s been consistent and enjoyable through all three.

CAVANAUGH: Anders, I want to stay with the concept of Pixar and the quality of these “Toy Story” movies. How have they managed to remain consistent through the one, two and three?

WRIGHT: Well, you know, I think what Pixar does so well, really, is they make these movies that tap into these kind of very familiar yet totally intangible emotional connections that we all have, and that is why people love these Pixar movies. And I think this one, too, it’s the same sort of thing. You know, the first “Toy Story” movie came out 15 years ago and now it’s 15 years later and I see so much of this is about – it’s about this kid who’s grown up and he has to say goodbye to his toys and his mom is trying to say goodbye to him at the same time. And he’s going off to college, and it’s not just that, too. It’s this idea that audiences – I mean, audiences love these movies, love these characters. Kids have grown up with them. And this is the final one. This is the last one. And I think one of the reason that people are – one of the reasons that people are crying all the way through this film is that they’re also saying goodbye to all of these characters that have really had an impact on them.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Scott, did you cry?

MARKS: Yeah, but for different reasons. Do you really think this is the last one?

WRIGHT: Absolutely.

MARKS: Really?

WRIGHT: Yes.

MARKS: So when they need money, when things have dried up and they need money, there’s not going to be a “Toy Story 4?”

WRIGHT: There’s no reason to think that Pixar’s going to have any problems with money. All their movies have made so much money.

MARKS: But there’s also – But there was no reason to think that we needed a “Toy Story 3” and that’s my problem with this thing.

WRIGHT: You know, I…

ACCOMANDO: But, I know, I think they did feel like they wanted to follow it through. I mean, I have teen critics writing for me on the Cinema Junkie blog and for all of them, they feel like – because they’re all 17 and 18 right now, and they feel like they identify very strongly with Andy’s character…

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: …because when Andy was, whatever, four and five, they were four and five. And when he was in high school or whatever, you know – so they feel a pretty close identification with that character. And they’re all going off to college now and saying goodbye to their parents or to, you know, their toys or whatever, you know.

WRIGHT: And I think a lot of people thought originally “Toy Story 3?” Really? A money grab? You guys need that? But they did it. They pulled it off. They abs – I mean, I feel like they capped the franchise perfectly.

CAVANAUGH: And why didn’t it work for you, Scott?

MARKS: I don’t find anything original about basically taking the story of “Finding Nemo” and retooling it for toys. Leave it to me to mention Hitler’s name when we’re talking about “Toy Story.” They did these Hitler maymays on YouTube and there was a line I’ll never forget about Hollywood’s opiate of replacing technology – or supplanting technology for story. And that’s my big problem with this film. Technologically, it’s wonderful to behold but I don’t think there’s much in the way of story and I have to tell you, the 3-D in this film is negligible at best.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Really? I was going to ask you about that.

MARKS: There were times when I was…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, yeah.

MARKS: …lifting up the glasses and it looked in perfect focus.

ACCOMANDO: No, go see it in 2-D.

MARKS: Well, not – I don’t…

ACCOMANDO: No, I would go see it in 2-D.

WRIGHT: Look at it like this, 3-D’s going to cost you an extra 10, 15, 20 bucks depending on how many people you go with.

ACCOMANDO: It’s not worth it.

WRIGHT: Yeah. I think the 3-D was fairly negligible.

CAVANAUGH: Because the 3-D made it for you in “Alice In Wonderland” I remember, Scott, yeah.

MARKS: And a lot of other films, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but I don’t…

MARKS: But this is…

ACCOMANDO: This wasn’t made for – I mean, they didn’t really make it to exploit the 3-D.

MARKS: No, they definitely…

ACCOMANDO: I felt like it was more like Pixar is being told they need to release it in 3-D so they can jack up the ticket prices.

MARKS: Then why don’t they just – See, I have a real problem. And this is a problem within me because on one hand I’m the first one to say that if they’re going to shoot in 3-D, make it naturalistic. And that’s kind of what this is.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: But I don’t want to see an animated film about toys where I’m talking about naturalism. I want the slinky dog to come flying out of the screen at me. This is kind of what I expected and considering that the storytelling in this film, for me, was really, really flat, the 3-D didn’t compensate for it. It was just a gimmick that they tacked on and they didn’t use the gimmick well and my biggest complaint with this film, being an animation lover, this is a dialogue driven work of animation. Cartoons should not be dialogue driven. You should use animation. This is like “The Flintstones.” It’s a sitcom.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

MARKS: There are so few things in this film that if you put – if you dressed an actor up as a toy they couldn’t do. Or if you used Claymation or stop motion animation. You could’ve done that with actual figures. So to me, this thing just kind of left me cold. It’s not a bad film. Now, what’s funny is I – being the die hard auturist, you know, championing directors over everything, I never sat down and looked at the “Toy Story” films from directorial point of view. And when I read – I was thinking the other day and I was on Google and I ran my three favorite toy – my three favorite Pixar films, “A Bug’s Life,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Wall-E,” and they were all directed by the same guy, Andrew Stanton.

CAVANAUGH: Oh.

MARKS: So, to me, he is the supreme artist at Pixar. And John Lasseter is basically doing cute sitcoms and I think that’s one of the reasons why people love this film so much, because they get to go to the theater and watch television.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Anders, I know that this – a lot of people have been seeing tributes to genre films in “Toy Story 3,” like prison break movies. Did you see that as well?

WRIGHT: I guess so. I mean, a lot of people have talked about that. It’s the idea that these toys have to break out of the – this daycare center when the – and get away from the bad toys who are sort of keeping them in there. I mean, that’s all there. But, to me, that’s really – I don’t think that’s really why people are enjoying this movie. I loved this movie. I really did. It totally tapped into some sort of an em – you know, an emotional connection for me. And I think that’s why people are really connecting with it. I mean, it made an enormous amount of money, too, over the opening weekend. But, I mean, I don’t know, I mean, I don’t think I necessarily agree with you. I don’t think animation necessarily means that it should be an action driven film.

MARKS: No, no, no, no, I’m not saying action. Bring back…

ACCOMANDO: Visually driven.

MARKS: Visually.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: Bring back squash and stretch. That’s what animation is. “Heckle and Jeckle,” we’re cartoon characters, we can do whatever we want. These characters can’t say that.

WRIGHT: But that’s what animation is to you. And, clearly…

MARKS: Of course, of course. Who else can I speak for?

WRIGHT: Exactly. But, I mean, obviously people have been watching these movies and totally digging them for years and…

MARKS: But that doesn’t mean that they know squat about animation, that they’re animation fans. I think…

ACCOMANDO: But I think you limit animation when you say that. I mean, you don’t even want to watch anime because you have a big issue because you feel like they can’t walk and talk or something.

MARKS: Well, they can’t.

ACCOMANDO: But they do.

MARKS: You know, I’m going to sit you down one day and I’m going to show you.

ACCOMANDO: Fine.

MARKS: I’m going to show you.

CAVANAUGH: Beth, let me ask you something. You know, I haven’t seen this movie but I’ve read in some reviews that sections of it are really kind of dark. I mean, you know, is this too bad for young kids?

ACCOMANDO: Oh, well, I’m the worst person to ask that question to, huh?

CAVANAUGH: That’s true. Yeah, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: I mean, I took my son to see horror movies when he was five.

CAVANAUGH: That’s true.

ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, I think for some of the little kids that I know, the darkest part of that film were similar to like “Lord of the Rings” when they’re going to the fires of Mordor or something like that. So, I mean, I think there are some dark moments in it but, you know, I think kids – there’s a certain part of kids that like that…

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: …darkness. As long as things work out okay, they can get through it. But part of – I mean, I remember when I was a kid, I mean, you kind of want to go and get scared to a certain degree. I mean, that was the whole thing with “Scooby-Doo,” it was like safe scares because you knew the formula of the film…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: …so well, you knew that there’s something scary but they would always reveal that it wasn’t something scary at all. So I think within the context of this film, I think kids feel probably pretty safe that…

WRIGHT: Scary doesn’t necessarily mean inappropriate.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Any new toys that stand out for you in this film?

ACCOMANDO: I liked Timothy Dalton’s character.

WRIGHT: Yeah, Timothy Dalton, that was…

ACCOMANDO: But he was so…

WRIGHT: …Shakespearian, what was he, a hedgehog?

ACCOMANDO: He was only not – Yeah, that prickly or whatever that…

WRIGHT: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, he was on for such a short time. It was too bad.

MARKS: I wish they would’ve done more with the Ken doll being gay. I really think that they – and that’s the problem with these films. They walk up to the line and they won’t put a couple of toes over it. They’ll do the least amount of shock that they can and it’s Disney so you really can – Well, I take that back because the original – the old Disney films, “Bambi” is a horrifying film.

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: It sure is.

MARKS: “Pinocchio” was a horrifying film. When those little boys sprout donkey ears and head to Constantinople, you know, that’s a horrifying film.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, most of the horror filmmakers I’ve interviewed, when I ask them what’s the thing that scared you most they almost, without fail, they almost all point to a Disney movie as…

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …the first thing that ever scared them. Monstro, the whale, or the witch in “Snow White.” So Disney, yeah.

MARKS: Primers for children in adult neuroses, that’s what they are.

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm. Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: But, you know, I mean, children’s fairy tales, if we go back to the old fairy tales…

MARKS: Oh, the Grimm Fairy Tales…

WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

MARKS: …they were horrifying.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, they’re – they were meant to teach kids a lesson by scaring them.

WRIGHT: Well, and actually one of the characters that does jump out that I think people aren’t really talking about is this big baby character which is a big doll that’s sort of damaged. It doesn’t really talk and is sort of this odd kind of emotional…

ACCOMANDO: Creepy looking.

WRIGHT: Yeah. It’s very creepy looking and yet it’s also a baby. I mean, that’s the thing.

ACCOMANDO: One rolling eye.

WRIGHT: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

MARKS: But every kid in America has one of those in their toy chest.

ACCOMANDO: But every kid in America is scared of dolls probably.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

MARKS: Then why do they have one in – throw it out.

ACCOMANDO: Because they – because we like to be scared.

CAVANAUGH: I know Scott isn’t crazy about this movie, Anders really likes it. Beth, is there anything you dislike about this movie?

ACCOMANDO: I think the only thing I really dislike is the fact that it feels very familiar in terms of the plotline and just the fact that the toys are escaping. It’s pretty much the same story we had in the first one and the second one. So I wish it had been a little more clever in terms of how they laid out the story but it’s fun, it’s likable.

MARKS: We talked – Anders and I were talking about franchise movies before this. Go ahead, Anders.

WRIGHT: Well, you know, we were saying basically, too, that this is the – one of the only franchise films so far this summer that fans of the franchise have really connected with, too. So many of the big summer movies really do feel just like, you know, products and money-grabs and sort of like let’s trot out a new “Shrek” or a new “Sex and the City” in hopes of, you know, because someone has a mortgage payment on a boat or a – coming up basically. I mean, these movies have been just terrible and…

MARKS: And fans of those franchises are not happy.

WRIGHT: Yeah.

MARKS: They’re walking out angry.

WRIGHT: They’re feeling let down.

MARKS: Yeah, so, what, is the next “Sex and the City” going to be 3-D?

WRIGHT: I…

MARKS: Are they going to revive that?

ACCOMANDO: Ehh… That’s scary.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a break. “Toy Story 3” is currently playing in area theaters. And when we return, we’ll talk about a much different movie set in the Ozarks. You’re listening to the Film Club of the Air on These Days here on KPBS.

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