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On the Contrary: TOY STORY 3 Isn’t That Great

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a blogumn by Joe Rusin

(Warning: Contains spoilers)

Pixar is good. As movie production company, they’re about as good as they come. They’ve never made a bad movie, and from my perspective they’ve really only made one or two movies that I haven’t cared for. They are masters of the traditional Hollywood story, but take risks in the material (the protagonists of their last three films were a hobbled old man, a faceless mute garbage robot, and a French rat—not an all-star list of desirables). They have been justly lauded by critics for their efforts, and compensated handsomely at the box office. So now comes TOY STORY 3, a film that astoundingly carries a 99% rating on Rottentomatoes.com. Only curmudgeonly (and some would say insane) critic Armond White speaks against it, and he has a history of going against Pixar films on principle. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say TOY STORY 3 is an awful movie (White suggests SMALL SOLDIERS had more depth), I would say it is an incredibly overrated rehash of the first two TOY STORY films.  And frankly, I’m tired of feeling like a misanthropic social mutant for not falling in line with “critics and audiences alike.” Just because Pixar has found the g-spot of the critical community doesn’t mean we all have to get off on it.

Let’s look at the plot. Basically it’s the same as the first two films. Some misunderstanding separates the toys from their owner Andy, and they have to try to get back home. In the first two it was Woody trying to get back, in this one he’s the one trying to get the rest of the toys back, but same idea.  They encounter other toys along the way, have a bunch of tight escapes, but ultimately make it back to Andy just in time. The third recycles most of its devices from its predecessors. The villainous Lotso Hugs Bear is really just a variation on Stinky Pete the Prospector from TOY STORY 2—both are abandoned and starved for children’s affections so they turn bad and try to sabotage others (oddly enough both are also rotund characters compared to the skinny Woody and muscular Buzz). Lotso’s silent and creepy enforcer baby doll is a visual rehashing of Sal’s mutant toy Baby Face (aka “Spider Baby”) from the first film. Also in the third film, Buzz Lightyear is reset to his factory settings, and we have to endure yet another Buzz who thinks he’s real (see both previous films for this). I could go on.

The first two films are very alike to each other in story but different thematically. In TOY STORY, the theme is about being replaced—the cowboy doll, Woody, is being supplanted as Andy’s favorite toy by the newer, slicker, space ace Buzz Lightyear.  The second film’s themes are about dealing with mortality. Here Woody finds himself given the choice to live an unending life adored but kept apart from the world in a collector’s case, or to go back to his owner Andy even though he knows that Andy will one day outgrow him and he will (in essence) die.

TOY STORY 3 rehashes the themes of the second film, showing explicitly what the TOY STORY 2 so eloquently suggested. Did we need to see the toys packed into garbage bags and shoved in the attic? Or have them hauled off to the garbage dump? Granted, they escape these sad fates, and the movie cops out by having Andy pass his toys on to a young girl who will play with them and give them a new home. This is meant to make us feel good—the toys will live on and be played with. But girls grow up faster than boys; so really, it’s just delaying the inevitable (Goodwill or the trash compactor). Unlike TOY STORY 2, however, which left us with the hopeful acceptance toward mortality in Woody’s line, “But I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” the third film tries to make us forget that these toys are still eventually going to end up in the trash bin. It’s really replacing a great lesson about life and death for children with an idealized Hollywood ending. Don’t worry kids, you don’t have to die, you can start all over!

Then there’s Andy. Creepy Andy.  Making the Andy of TOY STORY 3 17-years-old makes sense if you think about the timelines of when the movies have come out (TOY STORY 2 was released in 1999, so that would make Andy 7 in that picture). What it doesn’t do is make sense as far as life changes. Kids usually give up their childhood toys when puberty hits and they start to notice the opposite sex. Was I the only person who found it creepy that a 17-year-old boy was planning on taking his cowboy doll with him to college? Clearly Andy has not yet discovered said opposite sex (or same sex, should that be his bag). And don’t get me started on the last scene where a college-bound Andy stops his car in the street to approach a little girl playing on a front lawn. The scene was supposed to be sweet in how he introduces her to each of his toys and gives them to her, but all I kept thinking was, “So this is how Creepy Andy the serial killer lures his first victim.” Had Andy been aged 12 or 13, I could see the little girl’s mother seeing Andy as a sweet somewhat quirky child. But a 17-year-old stranger stopping on a random lawn? That just screams pederast.

There are great bits in TOY STORY 3.  Mr. Potatohead’s odyssey of improvising bodies is fantastic, and the Ken doll character is a lot of fun. But let’s not pretend this film is more than it is—an unnecessary sequel that cobbles together popular elements from its predecessors to capitalize on a familiar brand. Like the 4th SHREK, the real story has already been completed before this movie starts, so all it can really do is come up with some inventive set pieces and remind us of how much we enjoyed its predecessors. In a summer so starved for good mainstream movies, of course TOY STORY 3 will seem like a big bright shining star. Pixar’s films are always good, but let’s not pretend this one is on the level of FINDING NEMO, RATATOUILLE, WALL-E, or even the previous TOY STORYs. It’s another sequel, and it’s fine, but it doesn’t break any new ground or take any risks, so it doesn’t deserve the amount of praise being heaped on it. I personally hope Pixar doesn’t fall into the trap of taking the safe road, though I realize CARS 2 is in development. Maybe they should stray off the beaten path, into a new genre. They could do a mean CGI slasher movie. CREEPY ANDY, perhaps?