Review: Toy Story 3

I've been pulling lots of OT at work lately (as has my whole team) and this past week, the walls started closing in on me. That's appropriate--I work in a windowless lab surrounded by high-walled cubicles and machines that wouldn't pass FCC Class B certification with a bribe and a reactor radiation shield. Our lab has a sign with fake (?) blood on it that says: "Stress relief: Bang head here."

Anyway, my manager strongly suggested some time off. As did my wife. As did the janitor. So, I took today off and took Maria to see Toy Story 3, the latest computer-animated masterpiece from Disney/Pixar.

Okay, so our family is a Pixar family. We often don't speak English; we speak in citations from Pixar movies, our favorite being Finding Nemo and Cars

Nevertheless, after suffering through the turdly Shrek: Somebody Shoot Me a month ago, I was gunshy about walking into the 3rd installment from this franchise. Where could the story go?

To another plane of existence, that's where. Pixar topped itself again. For all the marvel of the original Toy Story and subsequent feature films, THIS FILM IS INCREDIBLE.

* * *

As before, we join the story in Andy's room, only now we're in on the joke: The toys are anthropomorphic and live secret lives when humans aren't around. We quickly find out, for Woody and Buzz and the (diminished) rest, that's often nowadays--Andy's grown up, leaving for college soon. His mom insists he clean out his room and assign everything to three piles: College, Attic, and Trash. Woody gets the 'College' box, everyone else gets the attic trash bag.

Predictably, a mixup occurs, and the Woody-less crew find themselves on the curb, with the garbage truck approaching. They escape the hydraulic garbage compactor in the truck, just barely, but the damage is done--the toys think Andy sent them to the landfill. Like a wronged ex-girlfriend, they decide to jump in the 'donate to Daycare' box, and Woody gets mixed-up with them.

Daycare seems like a utopia, run by a Southern-fried teddy bear who takes them on a tour before assigning them to a room where they'll be 'played with every day'.

(Aside: At this point, I was bored to death with this movie. Yes, the 'will they get thrown away' scene was exciting, but it all seemed formulaic and like any other kids movie. M was enthralled, but I was checking my watch.)

From there, the plot really kicks off. We find-out that the daycare's really a cross between Cool Hand Luke and The Great Escape. The benevolent bear reveals himself to be psychopath, feeding new toys to the toddler room, where they're rent stitch-from-stich by the "appropriate for kids 3 and under" crowd. The place is a prison.

Still, this is no simple "breakout from jail" story. This story is nuanced, and each character developed. Even the "big bad bear" has a backstory, and a chance at redemption. Throughout, we see themes of perseverance, friendship, and justice. After that facile first act, the remainder is a mix of tension, temptation, action, and release--all in succession. Woody remains our protagonist, and it's startling the number of times he can just 'walk away', leaving his friends to their fate.

He never does, and in Andy's poignant valediction to his toys as the movie closes, he reminds us Woody never will give up. In getting there, we see characters change, grow, and transcend themselves. Pixar knows character development, and they know that the STORY must take precedence above their incredible technology. It always does, and their movies are better for it.

* * *

In a way, Toy Story 3 is many things outside it's story line. A generation matured on these movies, and is now moving on just as Andy did, to college, career, and children. We've had much to leave behind: Toys, pets, friends, and parents. We've had to understand our own mortality and our "place" in this infinite stream of humanity. This story reminds us it's okay to let go, to pass-on to future generations and take our place on the next stage.

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