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 was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.