Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"The Toybox Revolutions" - Thoughts on "Toy Story 3" (mild spoilers)

So recently, I watched and enjoyed a beloved, critically acclaimed, gorgeously animated film that involved John Lasseter about a boy who has just recently become a man. He and his single mother are getting him ready to move off to the far-away land of college. The movie really isn't about the man, though. It's about the objects he owned and loved as a child who come to life when he isn't around. The objects are upset because they don't know if their owner is going to leave them, throw them away, or take them to college with him. Eventually, the objects decide to reunite with their owner, and they get into various misadventures in the process. At one point, they find themselves in a building where objects are mistreated by humans and have gone a little nuts because of it. They meet other objects who tell them they're worthless junk without their owner, and they almost meet a tragic and horrifying end in a garbage dump. Thankfully, their owner finds them and brings them to a place where they will be loved, cared for, and -best of all- where they will be used and needed. The film ends with the man driving off to college.

So yes, I re-watched "The Brave Little Toaster".

But I also finally saw "Toy Story 3". My above summary is by no means meant to be a knock against the movie. Far from it. This thing right here, this is how you end a trilogy. It's almost unspeakably good.

I've been thinking we should all just treasure the fact that we live in the era of Pixar. So many CGI animation studios, since it's so "easy" to make an animated film nowadays, toss a bunch of random movies at the wall, hoping one sticks. They don't even have to be "good"; if you want, you can basically become a giant techno-organic machine that regularly spews out movies about Fairy Princess Barbie or whatever. Pixar is one of the few animation studios out there now that treats the art of animation as just that: an art. Something special to be done with love and care or not at all. Every feature they've made has become more and more daring (compare how "talky" the first "Toy Story" is to it's sequels). You can especially see this in their shorts - "Day and Night", which accompanies "TS3", is as brilliant and surprising in it's humor and animation as a classic Tex Avery cartoon.

I'm glad I brought up Barbie here because in "Toy Story 3", Pixar does things with her and Ken that are screamingly funny in a way the creators of the Mattel-approved Barbie movies will never understand. The fact that they go ahead and explore the rather lousy existence of Barbie's long-suffering mate is by itself one of the reasons to go see it. He is a male character -- but he is also essentially an accessory to a toyline directed at girls. (It's well worth it to point out that Barbie herself is based on one of the dolls from the "We girls can do anything!" time period.) He has no role outside "Barbie's boyfriend". Really, the only way his subplot could possibly be better is if somehow the equine Village People cover band Big Brother Ponies were involved.

Now, aside from Ken and a couple of antagonists who I won't spoil here, there aren't too many interesting new characters. I suppose this was intentional, it gives the characters we already know room for their team victory lap. And a celebration is essentially what this is, for both Pixar and the toys. You can tell the writers are going to miss the hell out of these characters, so they made sure everyone gets their own little character moment (my favorite of these is a scene involving a tortilla that is so clever and hilarious and unexpected and wonderfully animated that I won't dare ruin the fun by explaining it here). It's like getting the band back together for one last amazing show.

Taken as a whole, the "Toy Story" trilogy is where you can say that the Pixar family is absolutely perfect, just as overall terrific as they will ever be. So it doesn't matter that "Toy Story 3" is (as a few people have... well, not really complained, but pointed out) just a big fanservicey pat on the back that ends with Andy explaining how wonderful all the characters are. They really are wonderful. You've got to be pretty confident in the audience's love for the toys to have such a long scene like that at the end of the movie. That's how you can tell that Pixar knows they're at the top of their game right now. They've earned this touchdown dance.


Now, speaking of that ending. For all the reports of big burly guys bawling their eyes out during the end of "Toy Story 3", I have to say that I didn't think it was sad -- except in the sweetest of ways. Overall, the movie doesn't quite have the same emotional resonance of "Toy Story 2" (which is, let's face it, the finest fantastic film to meditate on mortality this side of "Blade Runner", and it will take a lot for anyone to come up with as great and terrible an emotional kidney-punch as Jessie's backstory). But I love how the writers had the stones to take the themes introduced in "Toy Story 2" and explore them much farther. (And I can guarantee that I would have had a very different reaction to that last scene if I happened to be one of the people who "grew up with Andy" and the toys.)

All that and the second-best Gypsy Kings cover of a Disney song.

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Magic Lantern Theater

I had the pleasure of seeing "Toy Story 3" at the beautiful old Magic Lantern Theater in Bridgeton, Maine (pictured above). Someday, I'll have to do a post on my memories of the old Wollaston Theater. When I do, I'll hold up the Magic Lantern (heh) as an example of an old theater resurrection done right.

Admission is very cheap, there are only three screens but they are quite large, the theaters are roomy and two of them sport adult-only balconies. We actually sat in such a balcony for "Toy Story 3" and it was quite the experience. The kids in the lower decks didn't bother us at all (not that they would have), and the only other people there with us were two older couples. I don't know if I'd recommend the balcony unless the under-21 crowd *really* bothers you, because you're seeing the film from kind of a weird angle and the lower portion of the screen is "chopped" a little. That, and I had just watched "Matinee" the other night...

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Watercolor of the Week!

Speaking of things that make me cry (click for big and the story)

6.14.10 - "Support the Gulf"

If you're as angry and sad as I am and you can draw at all, please consider donating a sketch card to Kelly Light's Ripple Project. I've donated three cards so far and they'll be up for sale sometime in the next month. All proceeds go to support animal rescue organizations.

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