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

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

You killed my sandwich!

Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
(SPOILERS) One has to wonder at Bird of Prey’s 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean, such things are to be taken with a pinch of salt at the best of times, but it would be easy, given the disparity between such evident approval and the actually quality of the movie, to suspect insincere motives on the part of critics, that they’re actually responding to its nominally progressive credentials – female protagonists in a superhero flick! – rather than its content. Which I’m quite sure couldn’t possibly be the case. Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t very good. The trailers did not lie, even if the positive reviews might have misled you into thinking they were misleading.

Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? You bet I’m afraid.

Monkey Business (1931)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ first feature possessed of a wholly original screenplay, Monkey Business is almost brazenly dismissive towards notions of coherence, just as long as it loosely supports their trademark antics. And it does so in spades, depositing them as stowaways bound for America who fall in with a couple of mutually antagonistic racketeers/ gangsters while attempting to avoid being cast in irons. There’s no Margaret Dumont this time out, but Groucho is more than matched by flirtation-interest Thelma Todd.

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

You’re a disgrace to the family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Horse Feathers (1932)
(SPOILERS) After a scenario that seemed feasible in Monkey Business – the brothers as stowaways – Horse Feathers opts for a massive stretch. Somehow, Groucho (Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff) has been appointed as the president of Huxley University, proceeding to offer the trustees and assembled throng a few suggestions on how he’ll run things (by way of anarchistic creed “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). There’s a reasonably coherent mission statement in this one, however, at least until inevitably it devolves into gleeful incoherence.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Bad luck to kill a seabird.

The Lighthouse (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Eggers’ acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – second feature is, in some respects, a similar beast to his previous The Witch, whereby isolated individuals of bygone eras are subjected to the unsparing attentions of nature. In his scheme of things, nature becomes an active, embodied force, one that has no respect for the line between imaginings and reality and which proceeds to test its targets’ sanity by means of both elements and elementals. All helped along by unhealthy doses of superstition. But where The Witch sustained itself, and the gradual unravelling of the family unit led to a germane climax, The Lighthouse becomes, well, rather silly.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…