Friday, July 9, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

A few months back, I wrote an open letter to Pixar praising the amazing work that they have done over the last 15 years in the world of animation. As I watched Toy Story 3, I reflected over the importance of the Toy Story franchise, both in the Pixar universe and my own.

The Toy Story franchise has a special place in the Pixar universe. It isn't the best of its works. However, it is the franchise that started it all; the foundation for Pixar's meteoric rise in the animation universe. For me, the franchise constitutes a lot of good memories as a child. I was 7 years old when the first movie came out and literally screamed with childish delight as Buzz and Woody zoomed across the street on the rocket to land safely into Andy's box of toys. I wept when Jessie told the story of Emily ("When Somebody Loved Me") in the first sequel, not really understanding why though at the time. What I mean to say here is that the Toy Story franchise is a special one; one where comedy and emotions blend together to form a very wholesome and intimate movie-going experience for people across age groups. When Pixar decided to make a second sequel, 10 years after the first, I was apprehensive and yet, excited. As I took my niece for the film, I remembered that I was just about her age when I discovered the magic of Toy Story myself. With these thoughts and expectations in my head, I went into the theatre and here's what I thought:

Toy Story 3 is the least of the Toy Story franchise. However, that is not in any way to say that it is a bad film. On the contrary, nothing could be further from my opinion of it. That it's the least only testifies to the standard that the first two movies set. The third film is the least by a very small margin. It stands on its own as a darker and yet just as entertaining and emotionally gratifying entry to the franchise. It is a great addition to the Pixar repertoire and has a lot of the resonance and heart that made the first two classics.

The story takes off many years after the second film. Andy is now all grown up and heading off to college and the toys fear that they will be either put in day care or worse still, in the garbage. In an odd twist of fate, they end up in day care where the other toys seem welcoming and are led by a cute looking bear Lotso (Ned Beatty). However, Woody leaves to join Andy as he knows Andy wanted to take him to college while the others stay back. Things take a turn for the worse at the day care centre and Woody must decide what's more important: returning to Andy or saving his friends.

There are several things about the film that work. The humour is still very much brilliant. The opening sequence is absolutely fantastic in its hilarity. It is funny, cool and in its culmination, charming all at once. Also, with the help of new characters, particularly Ken and Barbie, there are many moments where you laugh, and then laugh some more. More importantly though, you still very much care about these little toys who are little more than plastic junk. They make you laugh, cry and jump with joy all over again. You think of the 15 years you have spent getting to know these characters and you truly give a damn about their fate. This is the true achievement of the franchise and the third entry does not disappoint here which is a very pleasant surprise indeed.

There are two central themes that the film explores: the sense of ownership and belonging on the one hand and that of friendship on the other. The sense of belonging that Woody feels towards Andy is contrasted with the bond he shares with Buzz, Jessie and the rest of his friends. While the two are linked in origins, they are distinct and when Woody is asked to choose between the two, it is a difficult choice indeed, for him and the viewer.

(minor spoilers alert)

There are several poignant moments that left me teary eyed. As the toys hold hands in the climax, you see the bond that has been forged between them. You feel their fear and their sense of  impending doom. And yet, you sure as hell are glad they are together at that moment. Most of all, the most beautiful moment  of the film  was when Andy plays with his toys one last time. You see the culmination of the last 15 years and everything comes full circle. That sense of ownership and letting it go and beautifully epitomised in those few moments. It is a reflection of the mutual love they share and the inevitable nature of change.

(spoilers end)

While it is not the masterpiece that the first two movies were, Toy Story 3 is a great film that dazzles, frightens and uplifts. It had me in tears in the end and I am sure it will touch you as well. It is a highly satisfying culmination of an epic saga about a bunch of plastic toys spread over 15 years. It is a powerful tale of friendship, ownership and that sense of belonging. But most of all, it is a testimony to the fact that Pixar's awesomeness really does extend to infinity, and beyond!

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