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.

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.

Love of Santa Clause Pt 3 (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, 2006)

santa-clause_3_posterDisney decided to make the series a Trilogy.  Well, at least until they come up with a Santa Clause 4 or maybe a series reboot with Chris Hemsworth as Scott Calvin.  In this film, we are introduced to Jack Frost, who feels like the most under appreciated of the Legendary Figures.  He schemes to find a way to be famous and sets his site on the throne of Santa Clause.

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Clause are bringing Mrs. Claus’ parents to the North Pole.  Of course, they have no idea Scott is Santa Claus, only knowing he is a toy maker and they never see their daughter.  The In-Laws both take digs at Scott, though in different ways.  While his father-in-law Bud is direct, his mother-in-law Sylvia is passive aggressive.  Yet again, the film relies on a deception themed plot.  Scott and the elves try and convince the In-Laws that they are in Canada.  All the while, Jack Frost is busy trying to undermine everything so he can convince Scott to take the Escape Clause.

Frost is successful, taking over a Santa.  This results in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” sequence.  It is, frankly not very successful, because Scott finding how life is super different without him as Santa is highly compressed into about five minutes.  It just does not give us enough time for emotional resonance.  The resolution comes quickly, almost to easily.

While there is a good cast here (Short, Anne-Margaret and Alan Arkin are all entertaining), the film feels like there is still a missing element.  One of those elements is Bernard.  Krumholtz and Allen had a fun chemistry, and while Spencer Breslin’s Curtis is a likable character, his ascension to the main elf is not quite the same.

While not a absolute failure, this is not a strong ending for the series.  It feels rushed and has a somewhat unsatisfying resolution.

Love of Santa Clause Pt 2 (The Santa Clause 2, 2002)

santa_clause_2_posterThe Santa Clause 2 takes place about eight to ten years into Scott’s run as Santa Claus.  He is informed that somehow a Clause has been missed.  The Mrs. Clause.  Scott needs to find a wife before Christmas.  And to top it off, his teen son Charlie is on the naughty list.

Scott, Bernard and Curtis (the elf who discovered the missed rule) work to deceive the rest of the elves by creating a fake Santa (who is made of plastic) to run the show while Scott goes to find a wife and check on Charlie.  Charlie has made the bad list because he is rebelling against his Principal who does not like Christmas.  Astute watchers of comedy movies will realize that high jinks with follow.  Charlie becomes upset when Scott falls for his Principal.  Scott is really just upset that he has had to keep the secret of Santa for years.  But he does have a little sister now, who is the film’s doorway to “The Belief of Children”.

The film has a few repeat messages.  In the first film, a big deal is made of when the adults stopped believing in Santa, and this film carries that through again.  At a Christmas party for the teachers, Scott impresses Carol by providing all the teachers with gifts-vintage toys they all wanted or loved as kids.

For the Elves, the plans backfire as Fake Santa becomes obsessed with the rules and takes over under the notion that all kids are naughty and should not be cut any slack.  He creates an army of giant tin soldiers and locks up Bernard and the other elves, while Curtis flies to get Scott’s help.

The film has some rather large plot holes.  Specifically, the whole premise of the Mrs. Clause.  Afterall, Scott is not the first Santa.  Have none of the other previous Santas taken wives?  Have they simply stopped being Santa before the issue came up?  If they did have Mrs. Clauses, what happened to those wives when the new Santa came along?

This is not to say that the film is not fun.  They expand on the Santa world mythology, introducing the other Legendary figures… Mother Nature, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, Father Time, Cupid and a scene stealing Tooth Fairy.  They cast character actor Art LaFleur, who is a pretty imposing size, but with small and dainty wings.

The film also is not burdened with explaining all the laws of Santa (only really adding the Mrs. Clause).  And there is a certain fun in Wendy and Neil being in on the secret that Scott is Santa.  For one, it makes them far more likable.

Overall, this is a fun film, though not quite as strong as it’s predecessor.  I however, give them credit for coming up with a story idea that is not a total rehash of the original.  Of course, it also relies on the issue of keeping the Santa identity a secret all over again.  But as a fun holiday diversion, the Santa Clause 2 if certainly still a fun way to pass the time.

 

Love of Santa Clause Pt 1 (The Santa Clause, 1994)

santa_clause_posterAt the height of Tim Allen’s power, he was tapped by Disney for this family comedy.  Surprisingly, it is not simply a transplant of the Tim Taylor character into a movie.  Scott Calvin is, in fact, a very effective toy executive.  But as a father, he is not so successful.  When his ex-wife and her husband drop Scott’s son Charlie off for Christmas Eve, Charlie asks if he has to stay.  Scott struggles to make the night fun for Charlie, but he does a pretty terrible job.  Fatherhood feels like a distant skill for him.

Later that evening, there is a sound on the roof, causing Scott to run out side.  He sees someone on the roof and calls out.  Startled, the person falls off the roof.  They disappear, leaving behind a Santa suit and business card.  Scott carelessly puts on the jacket and find he and Charlie taken on a wild ride delivering presents.  Their night ends in the North Pole where Scott and Charlie find themselves meeting elves and having fantastic hot chocolate.  Speaking with Head Elf Bernard, Scott finds out that he is bound by a contract…the Santa Clause.  Should something happen to Santa, reading the card and putting on the jacket makes the wearer the new Santa Clause.

Scott of course, convinces himself this was all a dream, while his Ex Wendy and her Psychiatrist husband Neil are becoming increasingly concerned with Charlie’s insistence that Scott is Santa.  As the story continues, Scott finds it hard to ignore his new role as he instantly grows a white beard and is rapidly gaining weight.  And children are drawn to him, lining up to tell him their Christmas wishes.

The Santa Clause is all about faith in things unseen, there is a line in the film that Believing is Seeing.  It is a very non-religious faith, as Christmas is really about Santa in this film.  There are no real ties to the Christian vision of Christmas as part of the film’s mythology.  It even has a subplot about Wendy and Neil learning to embrace the joy of Christmas.  Which is to believe Scott Really is Santa Claus.

The mythology of the film is quite a bit of fun.  The North Pole is quite high tech, with a “science” all it’s own.  There are things like Hot Chocolate dispensers in the Sleigh and Santa’s hat has a two way radio.  There is even a Navy Seal-like team of Elves.  The elves are skilled makers of the most popular toys.  How does Santa enter a house with no fireplace or chimney?  One magically appears when needed.

All in all, this is a pleasant and fun film for kids and parents.  Allen actually is entertaining as a guy who is trying to deny his calling.  The attitude laden Bernard is a fun presence.  The effects are, of course a bit dated, but not so much so that they ruin enjoyment.

 

It Gets Old (3 Geezers, 2013)

3_geezers3 Geezers has the following synopsis:

Follow actor J Kimball as he researches what it’s like to be old for a role in an upcoming movie. When he meets the residents at The Coconuts convalescent home, he quickly discovers that his perceptions of the elderly may be off from today’s reality. After being on the wrong end of some pranks, J enlists the help of his Hollywood friends to turn the tides. Mayhem ensues.

This was from the IMDB.  This is not the movie I sat through.

J.K. Simmons is a great actor, but he seems to be casually moving through this mockumentary.  His performance is so low key and disinterested it does not bode well for the film.  J Kimball tells us how the movie he agreed to be in is terrible, but he had no choice, because the screenplay was written by his brother-in-law.

It should be noted, the film is directed by Simmon’s real life wife and written by his brother-in-law.  One can only hope this is conscious self-deprecation.  It is not highly effective.

There is, by the way, no obvious turning point where Kimball seeks revenge.  He takes the old guys to Laser Tag.  But really, J.K. Simmons disappears for great lengths of the film, as it really focuses on raunchy old people jokes.  And some of the jokes are genuinely funny, though I cannot say anyone was ever asking for a recreation of the Judge Reinhold/Phoebe Cates pool sequence from Fast Times At Ridgemont High with elderly actors.

The real stars of the film are Victor (Basil Hoffman), Bernard (Lou Beatty Jr, who gets the best jokes), Rex (Will Bonaiuto) and Ruth (Beverly Polcyn).  They are who the film really follows.  If you look at the poster, of course, they do not appear.  Instead you have Tim Allen, Kevin Pollak, Randy Couture, Breckin Meyer and Fernanda Romero.  All appear for about three minutes or less.

The film wanders aimlessly and never seems to find it’s actual plot.  It feels as if the writers and director decided “lets try something we have not done before” and sucked a bunch of family and friends in for the experiment.  Sadly, it is just not successful.

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