Meet the New Kids (Toy Story 3, 2010)

Toy_Story_3_PosterWhile Pixar had pushed the Cars franchise at an aggressive rate, their other films had been allowed to remain largely untouched.  In spite of the second film’s success, it was not until 2010 that we saw the third installment of the Toy Story films.

This time, we find Andy getting ready for college.  When the toys are accidentally mistaken as trash, they decide to stow away in a box marked for the local daycare center.

Woody promises them it will be terrible, and shortly after they arrive, he tries to sneak out to return to Andy. However, on his way, he is found by young Bonnie, who brings him home.

 

The other toys are greeted by Losto (a stuff bear) and the other toys.  They sell our old friends on what a paradise the daycare is. But the truth is much darker. Lotso is pretty much the Godfather of the joint.  He runs the show and force new toys to be played with by the youngest kids in the daycare…regardless of whether these toys are meant for that age or not.

This is a pretty crazy story, but it works pretty well. Lotso is charming at first, but you learn he has turned dark from rejection.  Meanwhile, his henchman Ken is taken with Barbie. At first she is smitten, but when she discovers what Lotso does to the other toys, she rejects the cushy life Ken offers.

Meanwhile, Woody is also living a good life with Bonnie and her toys, but he wants to return to Andy…and when he finds out the truth about Lotso and the Daycare, he is determined to save the other toys.

The animation in this is pretty terrific and has come far.  Textures, vibrant colors, hair…everything looks great.  And this time around they have opted for a more stylized look to the human characters which is some much more pleasant to watch than the humans of the previous films.

As usual, there is a lot of heart to this film…it is a bit heavy as the toys contemplate death and complete destruction…but still, it really tugs at the heartstrings.

Again, the performances of the voice cast bring this to life in a way a lot of films fail.  Even the stunt casting never feels like a mere stunt.  The performances feel full of care, and everyone delivers.

Somehow, Pixar managed to keep the same quality in three films, avoiding the dreaded failure within the franchise that each announced film brought.  Toy Story three would have been a perfect cap off to the series, really.  You would have had a high quality trilogy.  It is full of love, humor and even grown up fears and emotion.  Toy Story 3 is a great continuation of the Toy Story Series.

 

 

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.

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