Skip to main content

That’s Mr Evil Doctor Pork Chop to you.

Toy Story 3
(2010)

(SPOILERS) If only for the merciful absence of a Randy Newman dirge (until the end credits), this might be the best of the trilogy (well, what used to be a trilogy). Indeed, Toy Story 3 is superior to the previous two on almost every level until the last five minutes, which retrospectively tarnishes a fairly sentiment-light tale that also has a – surprisingly – strong emphasis on plotting, given the previous ones told the same basic tale, and even this one reuses several key story points.

Because, as per usual, mishaps rather than out-and-out intent lead to the toys’ unfortunate circumstances (in two, it’s accidentally ending up in the yard sale that results in Woody being stolen); where previously Buzz and Woody each ended up in perilous predicaments, this time it’s the entire lot of them, dropped off at Sunnyside Daycare when Andy, about to flee the nest for college, leaves a binbag bound for the attic on the landing and mom assumes it’s to be thrown out. And as per the previous instalment, an apparently benign old toy (then Stinky Pete, now bear Lotso, voiced by Ned Beatty) turns out to be an evil bastard determined to subject the new arrivals to perdition in the toddlers’ room (they aren’t age appropriate).

Indeed, director Lee Unkrich, earning his first solo credit after shared duties on Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, supervises a tale that frequently flirts with the nightmarish, and it’s a refreshing change from the relative sunshine and roses of previous outings (this may partly be screenwriter Michael Arndt’s influence, on the Pixar team since WALL-E; in an echo of Toy Story 2’s process, the screenplay was completed after an abandoned mid-00s attempt by Disney to get a Toy Story 3 off the ground, which eventually reverted to Pixar). The scene in which monstrous toddlers descend on the familiar toys – it has to be asked, how is it that Andy appears to have come into possession of no new ones during the last decade? – with a frenzied disrespect is quite horrifying, while the climax takes the toys to the precipice of their own Dante’s Inferno as they await certain doom in trash incinerator.

In terms of the surprisingly robust interest in plotting, the mystery element of what’s going on at Sunnyside leads Buzz to a nocturnal excursion culminating in his being reset to factory settings. Later there’s a first-rate escape bid, courtesy of the returning Woody (who has ended up at the house of a typically – annoyingly – uber-cute Pixar moppet), which includes the need to overcome a monkey granted oversight of a Big Brother surveillance system.

Some of the big character ideas here aren’t quite the knockout the makers clearly think they are; enjoyable as they are initially, both Ken (Michael Keaton) and reset Spanish Buzz outstay their welcome. And as far as readings go, amusing as it is, I’m not entirely convinced by the Illuminati take on the movie either, based on an odd line (“Lotso made us into a pyramid and put himself at the top”), unless we’re to believe that Sunnyside represents a fallen, tarnished reality with Lotso as its demiurge…

By this point too, there’s something faintly objectionable about the “toys as willing slaves to humans” concept; if they have autonomous will and consciousness, finding fulfilment through a life of servitude and ultimate rejection ought to be seen as unconscionable, not praiseworthy (or is that precisely the intention? Is this a Forrest Gump-esque vision of how dire existence is – the toys stand-ins for our own futility – one masked in sentimental uplift?) Instead, it’s the villains who voice ideas that make philosophical sense but are ultimately rejected – “No owner means no heartbreak” – in favour of emotional clinginess.

There’s another rejected toy flashback, but in the psychology of the piece, Lotso only disdains receiving love and attention from humans due to his bad experience (rather like Stinky Pete being left on the shelf), not because he perceives something inherently flawed in the system. Likewise, per Toy Story 2, there’s a sense of Old Testament justice about the punishment inflicted on those who have done wrong to our hero toys; an eternity of damnation awaits, tied to a fender or trapped in the toddler section.

Scene by scene, though, this third instalment flows more satisfyingly (despite the incremental increases in running time – this is twenty minutes longer than the first) and features the usual sharp gags and lines (“Hey! No one steals my wife’s mouth – except me!” exclaims Mr Potato Head; “We’re either in a café in Paris or a coffee shop in New Jersey” Woody is told at his new owner’s house, amid a bout of improv). If the final scene – in which Andy gifts his toys to moppet Bonnie and tells her all about them – is indigestible garbage – indigestible garbage that caused the Variety critic to cry, but frankly, I’d rather have a heart of stone, if that’s the state of affairs for affecting fare – I suppose it also draws attention to how, relatively, free of such elements the preceding ninety minutes are.

Further illustrating how out of touch I am, Toy Story 3 took home two Oscars, one of which was somehow bestowed upon Randy Newman’s We Belong Together. It was nominated for Best Picture too (and Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Animated Feature), only the third time – after Beauty and the Beast and Up – that’s occured for an animated film, which made it a shoe-in for winning Best Animated Feature. Being a philistine, I preferred DreamWorks’ offering that year, How to Train Your Dragon (I’ve yet to see Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist).



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances.

A Few Good Men (1992)
(SPOILERS) Aaron Sorkin has penned a few good manuscripts in his time, but A Few Good Men, despite being inspired by an actual incident (one related to him by his sister, an army lawyer on a case at the time), falls squarely into the realm of watchable but formulaic. I’m not sure I’d revisited the entire movie since seeing it at the cinema, but my reaction is largely the same: that it’s about as impressively mounted and star-studded as Hollywood gets, but it’s ultimately a rather empty courtroom drama.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

Everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after.

Empire 30:  Favourite Films of the Last 30 Years
Empire’s readers’ poll to celebrate its thirtieth birthday – a request for the ultimate thirty films of the last thirty years, one per year from 1989 – required a bit of thought, particularly since they weren’t just limiting it to your annual favourite (“These can be the films that impressed you the most, the ones that stuck with you, that brought you joy, or came to you at just the right time”). Also – since the question was asked on Twitter, although I don’t know how rigorous they’re being; does it apply to general release, or does it include first film festival showings? – they’re talking UK release dates, rather than US, calling for that extra modicum of mulling. To provide more variety, I opted to limit myself to just one film per director; otherwise, my thirty would have been top heavy with, at very least, Coen Brothers movies. So here’s they are, with runners-up and reasoning:

What happens at 72?

Midsommar (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ari Aster, by rights, ought already to be buckling under the weight of all those accolades amassing around him, pronouncing him a horror wunderkind a mere two films in. But while both Midsommar and Hereditary have both received broadly similar critical acclaim, his second feature will lag behind the first by some distance in box office, unless something significant happens in a hitherto neglected territory. That isn’t such a surprise on seeing it. While Hereditary keeps its hand firmly on the tiller of shock value and incident, so as to sustain it’s already more than adequate running time, Midsommar runs a full twenty minutes longer, which is positively – or rather, negatively – over-indulgent for what we have here, content-wise, and suggests a director whose crowned auteurishness has instantly gone to his head.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.