Collectability (Toy Story 2, 1999)

Toy_Story_2_PosterToy Story had almost cemented itself as a classic in the public mind within a few short years.

This time, they open with a massive space adventure sequence which introduces Buzz’s arch nemesis Evil Emperor Zurg.

When Woody gets stolen by a collector at a yard sale, Buzz mounts a rescue mission. But for Woody, it turns out to not be as simple.

Woody discovers that he is not some random doll…but that he was originally part of a popular fifties toy and TV show combo.  And he finds out he was the last piece of the puzzle for a toy collector who plans to sell his collection to a museum in Japan.

At first, Woody is terrified by the notion.  But the rest of the collection (A cowgirl named Jessie, a horse named Bullseye and Stinky Pete-a toy still in his box, never opened) slowly convinces Woody that maybe life in a museum would not be so bad.

The film has a lot of fun, expanding both Woody and Buzz’s respective worlds.  They also find a new way to advance the story and give us “Buzz Does Not Know He is a Toy” in an entertaining way.

Jessie and Bullseye are engaging and lovable, making it easier to understand why Woody might consider abandoning Andy. Kelsey Grammer gives Stinky Pete just the amount of charm at the beginning to hint there may be more for him than we think. Admittedly, he is a bit of an indictment of collectors, as being left in the box plays a major motivation for Pete.

The animation shows some improvement here, though the human characters look…uh….freakish.  However, with Wayne Knight’s toy collector Al and the old man are much more cartoonish.  And it works more effectively when we see them on screen.

Toy Story 2 is a terrific follow up to the original, improving some things in the technical aspects and giving us a pretty tale revisiting characters we have come to love.

The Secret Life of Toys (Toy Story, 1995)

Toy_Story_PosterIn the 80s Pixar’s team thought that computers could usher in a wave of new animation….animation by computer.  They made their name in the industry with the  short The Adventures of André and Wally B. A few years later it was followed up by the Tin Toy.

When it came to their first feature, the team at Pixar looked at their limitations and based the film in those parameters.  They chose to focus on characters that did not need to look “realistic”.  Toys are made of plastic and fabric.

The concept is that toys are living things that have a purpose…and that purpose is to be a friend to the child to which they belong. And in this case, it is the toys of a kid named Andy.

Life in Andy’s room is full of adventure.  Andy Imagines scenarios in which his toys, ranging from a slinky dog to a dinosaur to cowboy named Sheriff Woody.  Woody is Andy’s favorite and the “leader”.  But all that changes on Andy’s birthday when he receives the exciting new Buzz Lightyear action figure.  A futuristic action toy that can shoot lasers, Woody wonders if he has lost his place in Andy’s heart. The other toys are in awe of Buzz and this only compounds Woodys fears.

Jealous, he ends up alienating himself…and then when he accidentally causes Buzz to be lost, the other toys no longer trust him.  This forces Woody to go on a rescue mission, facing himself and also needing to consider the possibility that a change in status is not bad.

A lot of what sells this film is the performances.  Especially Hanks as the slightly uptight Woody and Tim Allen as the toy who does not realize he is a toy, Buzz Lightyear.

The movie has a ton of fun with the conceit of living toys.  Most of the toys are generic (outside of Mr. Potato Head and a couple much older toys) but this works pretty well.  It allows the voice talent and script to imbue the toys with some genuine personality.

Even now, the animation holds up.  Sure, compared to later films even within the franchise everything is much simpler to look at, lacking a lot of texture…and when we do see people’s faces…well, let’s just say they look like the 2019 Chucky.

But this is a film that manages to overcome those limitations with solid storytelling and performances.  There is both heart and humor that has made this film a classic of modern animation.

How Are We Alive (Toy Story 4, 2019)

Toy_Story_4_PosterHonestly, the Toy Story films are something rare.  Never feeling like a cash grab when you actually watch them, they stand together in a way other animated franchises rarely do….even from Pixar.

Each film finds some new approach to its characters, new and thoughtful hopes and fears. And this time it is no different.  Though, the big questions are…well bigger.

Before the story begins proper, the film addresses why we did not see Bo Peep in the third film.  Granted, Bo is mentioned in a moment of that film as having been given to a new home, but here we get an action packed opener set several years ago, when the toys were still Andy’s.  Unlike the previous two films, which showed us Andy’s imagination, this sequence is the toys trying to save another toy in danger of being lost in a storm. This sets Bo up as being a bit more action oriented, since in earlier films, she is never given a lot to do, other than be the presumed love interest of Woody.

Everyone is shocked to find Bo is being given away, as Molly (Andy’s little sister) no longer is interested her. Bo tells Woody it will be okay and then the film picks up present time, with young Bonnie terrified of her first day at Kindergarten.  Against everyone’s recommendations, Woody stows away with Bonnie. At school, she creates a little friend she nicknames Forky.  When Woody sees how much joy he brings Bonnie, he becomes convinced he must protect Forky at all costs.

When the family takes a road trip, Woody and Forky become separated, they run into several obstacles when trying to get back to the family.

And honestly, the film works most of the time.  What happens to lost toys? Well, here we see a whole tribe under the loose care of Bo Peep.  I liked this adventuresome Bo Peep who represents a possibility that has never occurred to Woody.

There are also a lot of fun new characters, such as Duke Caboom and Giggle McDimples.

The biggest problem of the film is its central conflict character. Gabby Gabby is set up right away as a dark character.  We eventually learn the reasons why, and unlike Lotso in part three, she is offered a redemptive arc. Unfortunately, it is so rushed that it makes things very problematic.  I was not sure initially if it bothered me…but how it plays out could have been done in such a better way.

However, largely, this film is very entertaining and many times managed to tug at my heart strings more than once.  I liked the characters and had a good time overall.  This is not a quartet of near perfect films due to a few issues with Toy Story 4, but it is a pretty solid set of films. Toy Story 4 could have used another pass, but it is a strongly entertaining film.

Bustin’ Up

 

So, the Ghostbusters Trailer has hit.  And there were responses.  I initially saw plenty of “I’m in” responses.  Suddenly I started to see a lot of “blah” reactions.  Some were super aggressively angry that the trailer was a disappointment.

And, I agree to an extent that there was some stuff that is frustrating (Mentioning the original film as it does makes it seem like a sequel, and it is not).  But I loved the interaction between Wiig, McCarthy, Jones and McKinnon.  Plus Jones slapping McCarthy yelling “the Power of Pain compels you!” cracks me up.

But then there was a complaint that started a war of words.  See, Leslie Jones’ character Patty is a transit employee.  People questioned why she could not be a scientist.  And this question was lambasted for it’s being PC.

I am weary of this.  I am weary of how legit questions of story and character choices in regards to diversity are so quickly attempted to be shut down with cries of PC Culture.  Diversity in film is, of course, not important to these mostly white critics.  White people in America have no idea what it is like to watch movies after movie where there is only one or two folks who look like us.  It is easy when your face is all over the screens.  And my entire life, I have heard white people lament even one non-white character appearing in a story as being unrealistic, or they are token characters or they are forcing diversity.

Ghostbusters_2016

The question of why Patty could not have been one of the scientists (and having, say, McCarthy be the “every man”) is a valid one.  It is not like film and television have had a bunch of black nerds.  Now, they already finished the film.  Feig did not consult me.  And Leslie looks like she had fun with the role.  She is certainly protective of it.  I am holding back final judgement until I see the film.

Personally, I still wish it was within the original film’s storyline.  I think it would have made things fun if they returned in a sequel.  Let these ladies be aware of the originals, but nobody really knows where they went.  So, this film would focus on the new team, but in the background there is that mystery of where they went.  Then in a sequel, they could bring the still living cast in to team up with the new team.

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