Firstly, I loved Day and Night. I think it definitely ranks up with their best (Luxo Jnr., Geri’s Game, Tin Toy) in terms of both originality and sheer beauty; the merging of traditional Disney-style and computerised Pixar-style animation worked so well. I can’t believe Pixar is still the only studio that does shorts before every movie
Now for the main feature. I’ve heard many descriptions of Toy Story 3 since its release in the UK last Monday; ‘Amazing’, ‘For men to cry at’, ‘One of the best films ever’. But before I read all of these, I’d already seen the film myself on release day and had chosen my own description. ‘Disappointing.’
Now put away those pitch forks and let me explain (introduction in Spoiler Tags to avoid walls of text)…
The earliest memory of Pixar I have is watching Toy Story 2 in the cinema. I was 7 and I’m pretty sure I had seen their first two films previously. And I loved it. Even then, Disney was regarded with a sceptical light by kids, but from this moment on, I, along with the rest of the film-going world, held Pixar in the greatest regard.
I got a couple of their films on VHS and taped the rest off the T.V, watching them over and over. I saw each film in cinemas, loving them all, consistently having my childish cynicism trampled; ‘They can’t make a good movie about children fish.’ After The Incredibles, I just went with it.
Of course, as I grew up, I like most children began to hold children’s film with more disdain as you hit that teenage mark. But after getting a Pixar box-set shortly before Wall-E’s release, I fell in love with them again and discovered not only did Pixar make fun films, they made masterpieces.
And then came Up. The first time I saw it, I cried in the middle. The second time, I cried at the end. The third time, I cried at the start. And all the times I laughed all the way through. Up not only gained the title of ‘Best Pixar Film’, but also became one of my personal favourites. And yet I had to drag a friend along to see this and whenever I mentioned this film to anyone who hadn’t seen it, it was brushed away as a simple kid’s film about a flying house*.
How could they top Up? Why with a sequel to two of their best. Toy Story 3 had me excited from when those words first hit my ears. And I couldn’t wait. I watched the trailers but purposefully avoided anything else to keep the film as fresh as possible (which had a less than successful outcome, but anyhoo).
*And these were the same people who were extremely excited by Toy Story 3. ‘I’ve waited 11 years’ they announce on Facebook.
In short, I love Pixar.
So last Monday I headed to the cinema, popped on the 3D glasses (a rare occurrence – I prefer 2D) and got set to go beyond infinity.
Boy, was I stunned.
The opening was spectacular, so I just sat back expecting a humorously sad or depressingly funny ride. Halfway through, I realised something was up. There was no spark. This didn’t feel as fresh as the other Pixar films. The jokes felt forced and the film seemed to be made of two separate stories brought together.
This was far from a true flop and was quite enjoyable, but I had no hesitations in proclaiming it as the ‘worst’ Pixar movie so far.
And then I got home and read all the reviews here and across the media. I’m not used to being against the norm with film. I see two a week in the cinema and 90% of the time my view falls in with the critical or popular consensus. Even when it doesn’t (Avatar), there are plenty of people who feel the same way as I do. Yet with Toy Story 3, there was no criticism whatsoever (aside from a review criticising it for being a U). Of course, I did LIKE it, but there wasn’t even a mention of disappointment from anyone.
So I watched it again. I had to be missing something, right?
Well now having watched it a second time, my disappointment is lessened. But it is still there and this is an over-rated film. And still Pixar’s ‘worst’:
On my film scale, all the others get 5*. Toy Story 3 is a solid 4*. Not a big deal for any other company or director. But this isn’t any other company or director.
I’m not going to focus on the good – a lot of it has been said already and this is going to be long enough as it is.
Emotion-wise I felt this was, for the most part, a dry-eye affair. The opening had me smiling with nostalgia and the ending had me welling up a little the second time, with the incinerator scene being sad, but a bit overdone. The biggest problem for me with these was that they relied not on the first hour and a half, but on the memories of the previous two movies. Would the ending work as well if this was the first Toy Story? I think not.
The reasons sequels often don’t work is because they use the same characters, but have them not develop. While Woody has the chance to, realising what the toys want is most important, all the others are sidelined in comparison to previous films. Buzz has a much smaller part than in the first two and needs the mind wipe to hide the fact there is nowhere to go with him. Which again pushes the film back to relying on the familiarity with the characters already, compounding the fact that this doesn’t work as a stand alone film. This shouldn’t bother me (I know them by heart and watched them the day before seeing this), but
Plot-wise there’s a lot to like, but I must add that it is two stories that work independently of each other; Andy leaving, toys in day care. They both work inconsequential of each other; the ending works fine without Losto and co. appearing at all and likewise, the film feels complete without the toys going to Bonnie. Not a big problem, but jarred for me at points.
I’ve heard this lauded as the funniest film of the three. While there are lot of humorous bits (especially Hamm’s asides), there was nothing aside from Spanish Buzz that got a full audience laugh in the two showings I’ve been too. The film seemed to try more for big laughter set pieces instead of the witticisms of the previous movies. The three big ones are Barbie and Ken, Mr Wrap Head and Spanish Buzz. The first feels tacked on with the addition of Barbie to the gang – she was clearly only introduced for this one joke, that while funny, doesn’t necessitate a new character and the second didn’t suit the franchise at all. These were both the sort of thing I expected from a Dreamworks cartoon – mocking convention and visual gag pushed too far. I also found the balance between jokes and sentiment was misjudged, with the laughs coming too close to the emotion, dampening their effect.
Those are my big beefs. I liked the rest of it – Losto was a great villain, having them actually in the dump was a daring, but successful (for the most part) move and the references to previous instalments were well balanced, funny and rewarding. But the fact this relies so much on previous film, while at the same time re-treading over similar ground (This is basically a feature length version of ‘If She Loved Me’), robs the film of that traditional Pixar spark.
I think this film is popular for several reasons. For one it is good. It revisits old characters that most people (especially teenagers) won’t have encountered for 10 years, making it feel fresh. It has a really good ending that almost eclipses the rest of the film, so the film sticks more in the mind; I’ve heard so much about the last fifteen minutes, but nearly nothing about what preceded it.
So, why don’t I love it? Perhaps in watching the prequels so close to this I set my sights too high? Perhaps it was impossible to successfully follow Up? I really wanted to love this film, but I just couldn’t.
In summary, this is a good film, but a big disappointment by Pixar’s standards and their ‘worst’.
4 Stars out of a usual 5