***½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras A-
screenplay by Michael Arndt
directed by Lee Unkrich
by Walter Chaw Woody (Tom Hanks) refuses to shake Buzz's (Tim Allen) hand in farewell at around the middle point of Pixar's Toy Story 3, marking a dark return of sorts to the petulant Woody of the first film and a harbinger of things to come as the picture closes with sights and sounds that are easily darker than anything dreamed of in its predecessors. Maybe it's the comfort that comes with being part of an established franchise--with the knowledge that the only watermark to exceed is that left by its own thorny, complex second chapter. Whatever the case, Toy Story 3 is more ambitious than Toy Story 2 yet less successful as well, mainly because the first half of it seems uncharacteristically uncertain of itself. It's a feeling of awkwardness that in retrospect coalesces into this idea that maybe it's dread that colours our reintroduction to these characters. Half of their number is gone without explanation, after all, including Woody's love interest, Bo. He grieves for her. We'll come back to this. Their owner, Andy, prepares to go to college, leaving the toys to limbo in his attic until some hoped-for, equivocal day when maybe Andy could have children of his own and thus reconnect in some pat, schmaltzy epilogue, we fear, through a closed circle of eternity via progeny. The picture resorts to nothing so simple as that, thankfully, wrapping up instead with a worthy extended post-script that returns the series to its origins, though not without irreplaceable losses and an absolute clarity of purpose that binds this trilogy into something like a definitive, modern existentialist philosophy. While it's not Dostoevsky, it's not that far off, either.
If the first half is uncertain, the second is flat brilliant. After Woody witnesses the gang mistakenly donated to a daycare run by cuddly purple bear Lotso (voiced by Burl Ives in another time, Ned Beatty does yeoman's work here), he embarks on another rescue that's thwarted, in an inverse of Toy Story 2, by the gang's reluctance to leave. Seduced by the chance to be loved by generations-upon-generations of toddlers, they find a darker truth in a cliquish cabal whose lust for self-preservation at a daycare divided between a room for the older kids who know how to take care of toys and the youngsters who don't has made them bellicose and strange. Key henchman Big Baby, in particular, is horrific--and not in a way that's ever played for cheap laughs. A late moment where the heroes happen upon him gazing fixedly at the moon with nothing in his drooping doll eyes, is one for the nightmare log, guaranteed. (For me, a gratifyingly-placed Cymbal Monkey is maybe the single most terrifying screen bogey I've seen since reaching adulthood.) But the villain of the piece is Lotso--who's not bad, really, but is damaged by experience and shot through with the notion of a Kurtz up a Day-Glo river. If the second film's closest analogue is The Searchers, this one's is Apocalypse Now, having the audacity even to end its centrepiece action sequence with a real, honest-to-gosh hellmouth and our heroes--here's the key--accepting their fate as temporary beings. The villain's taunt, "You're made of plastic. You were made to be thrown away," rings in our ears as the cruellest, truest metaphor for holding fast to anything in a world that's fleeting. It's the abyss that makes the religion, isn't it? The peril at the end is a palpable weight on the chest. Their plight is a giant one and their loneliness is primal and terrifying. The shot taken at organized religion in Toy Story is brought full circle not as confirmation of a higher power, but as acceptance that good things are sometimes done and no one's to be thanked but those upon whom some measure of grace has been previously visited. What I'm saying is that Toy Story 3 is a shining example of a secular film with deep spiritual curiosity and passion--the kind of vastly unpopular investigation that swallowed films like The Fountain and Soderbergh's Solaris whole, one that discards easy solutions and circular answers with the certainty that being good is payment enough for a worthwhile existence, though it offers neither shield nor, in times of great want, succour. The toys in this film occupy an absolutely empty place, bytes in a mainframe, if you will; the light they make is their own. These ideas are made literal throughout, from the monstrous portrayal of dumpsters and dumptrucks through to glow-in-the-dark bits on Buzz's suit that reunify our heroes following a spell of total darkness. Thematically, it's as tight as a textbook, and a reference to Pixar-head John Lasseter's hero Hayao Miyazaki in the form of a mute Totoro doll plays with melancholy irony: the learner has become the master, the circle is now complete.
Toy Story 3 is still about all those things the earlier entries were about: friendship, loyalty, the importance of bliss, however brief. But it's also, at its heart, about making a true and lasting peace with the cold fact of one's own mortality. So the question the original never quite asks is answered way down the road in this second sequel: there's no use fighting the inevitable; there's no suspended animation. When Woody dismisses Lotso as "not worth the effort,"* it seems an unworthy sentiment, except that it arrives at the end of a complete and obvious acceptance that some things can only be resisted and then only for a time. Woody's choice at the climax of the film is agonizing, but the final image of the story proper is one of open gates. It's as close to religion as it gets, which is closer than most movies could ever hope to achieve. Toy Story 3 is a movie that looks entirely forward with knowledge of an expiration date, but with genuine awe at how it is we choose to get ourselves there.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Disney brings Toy Story 3 to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p presentation that is pure digital nirvana. Whatever the limitations of Pixar's software are, those are the only limitations imposed on this transfer. At the risk of politicizing things, I wondered who could possibly want or need 3-D after seeing this, the single best, most "dimensional" HD image I've ever encountered--though if it achieves the impossible by raising the bar for Pixar BDs, it's largely because Toy Story 3 itself sets a formidable new standard in visual sophistication for the studio, its plastic-fantastic surface always revealing hidden depths of tactile detail. (The vaguely bacterial sheen on Lotso's fur is practically witchcraft.) The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is overshadowed by the video but fantastic in its own right: hectic, dynamic, and beautifully balanced. I do wonder whether I'm missing something, not being able to take advantage of the 7.1 DTS-HD MA alternative--and I can't help but wish that ace sound designer Gary Rydstrom had returned to his post after mixing the first two Toy Storys, but Tom Myers has filled his shoes as ably as director Lee Unkrich has filled John Lasseter's.
Disc 1 is sparsely supplemented beyond the feature film. You get the annual Pixar short subject, Teddy Newton's Day & Night (6 mins., HD), a grass-is-always-greener parable that seems to eventually say the grass is always green. Still, the combination of 2-D and 3-D modelling is atypical and eye-catching. Buzz Lightyear's NASA debriefing--recall from the previous Toy Story Blu-rays that an actual Buzz doll spent 450 days on the space station--continues in "Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Adventure of Science" (4 mins., HD), while "Toys!" (7 mins., HD) reflects on the unique challenges presented by the quantum technological leaps that have taken place since the second film came out. We also learn of a toy designer who carved stitch patterns into a bust of Lotso so that the animators could reverse-engineer the character into a convincing plushie. Rounding out the platter are startup trailers for Tangled, The Search for Santa Paws, Bambi, and Cars 2, plus separate sneak peeks at Mater's Tall Tales and the long-awaited Blu-ray version of The Incredibles.
The centrepiece of Disc 2's extras is the Cine-Explore feature, which overlays the movie with picture windows--showing storyboards, animatics, still photos, and full-motion video clips--and audio commentary from Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson. (Presumably this was not included on the first platter to maximize bitrates.) Unkrich and Anderson are a chatty and ingratiating pair but most of what they say is reiterated either in the secondary yakker (a "geek track" teaming production designer Bob Pauley, supervising animators Bobby Podesta, Mike Venturini, and Guido Quaroni, and story supervisor Jason Katz) or in one of the copious making-of featurettes. Here's the takeaway: garbage bags are obscenely difficult to animate; Ken is the "Animal Lovin' Ken" edition from the '80s; and the introduction to Sunnyside was a "gallstone" that took two weeks and a concentrated effort by the entire staff to realize. One shot of Buzz is referred to as a "Kubrick homage," but I didn't totally get why; perhaps I should just say that this and the "alternate commentary," in which colour theory is discussed and Easter eggs are scrupulously pointed out, are mainly for superfans.
The remaining "Bonus Features" break down into four somewhat arbitrary categories, like so:
"The Gang's All Here" (11 mins., HD)
Your basic puff-piece, in which cast members new and old reflect on their Pixar experience. I did enjoy Tom Hanks razzing Tim Allen about his seemingly reduced role in the third film, as well as a montage of the actors making abstract noises--because it's not merely dialogue that has to be recorded, but also things like grunts, gasps, and sighs of relief. Never really thought about that before.
"Goodbye Andy" (8 mins., HD)
Mainly a post-mortem on the final scene with Andy, with credit for its success evidently going to Unkrich's emotionally-intelligent direction. I do find the movie's bittersweet yet ultimately positive portrayal of childhood's end ironic, if not a tad hypocritical, considering that in the following featurette, Pixar godhead John Lasseter sits behind his desk gleefully crashing Buzz and Woody dolls into each other.
"Accidental Toymakers" (4 mins., HD)
An ode, of sorts, to the foresight and entrepreneurial spirit of Albert Chan, who built an empire out of his mom-and-pop operation Thinkway Toys by agreeing to manufacture Toy Story tie-in merchandise after the usual suspects had passed. I love a good underdog revenge story.
"A Toy's Eye View: Creating a Whole New Land" (5 mins., HD)
A teaser, when all's said and done, for the upcoming Andy's Playland attraction at Disney's Paris and Tokyo theme parks. Visitors will encounter an overscaled replica of Andy's backyard, where, for instance, they can ride a scary-looking Hot Wheels halfpipe.
"Epilogue" (4 mins., HD)
The film's own epilogue, isolated from the closing titles and blown up to fullscreen--in this case 1.33:1.
"Roundin' Up a Western Opening" (5 mins., HD)
An overview of the action prologue's development from a Leone-esque showdown between Woody and Buzz (the great Bud Luckey was tasked to storyboard prior to his retirement) into the showstopper that it is now.
"Bonnie's Playtime: A Story Roundtable" (6 mins., HD)
Unkrich and Katz join story artists Adrian Molina, Matt Luhn, and Erik Benson for this window into the creation of Bonnie--how they laboured to differentiate her style of play from Andy's and how they had to rein in her boisterousness before it crossed over into roughhousing, lest Woody and the gang appear to be in no less jeopardy at her house than they were at Sunnyside.
"Beginnings: Setting a Story in Motion" (8 mins., HD)
Animated in the style of those "Studio Stories" shorts on the Toy Story and Toy Story 2 discs (which crop up again later here), this has screenwriter Michael Arndt comparing the structure of Toy Story 3 to, expressly, that of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. A lesson in a certain kind of plotting, it may inspire young scribes.
"Life of a Shot" (7 mins., HD)
A who-did-what dissection of the opening set-piece, misleadingly titled. Not much to offer beyond the "I did the clouds"-type soundbites from a host of unfamiliar faces, but it makes its point: These productions are labour-intensive.
"Making Day & Night" (2 mins., HD)
This really belongs under "Publicity," as its content is almost strictly promotional in nature. Lasseter apparently interrupted the filmmakers' Day & Night pitch to tell them it was going at the head of Toy Story 3.
"Paths to Pixar: Editorial" (5 mins., HD)
One of those Errol Morris-flavoured first-person interview segments. Assorted Pixar editors discuss the redefinition of "cutting" in computer animation in addition to the circuitous routes that brought them to the studio.
"Studio Stories: Where's Gordon?" (2 mins., HD)
Pixartist Andrew Gordon discovers a Being John Malkovich-ian portal in his new office that leads through a crawlspace to an empty room, and...that's all I'm willing to spoil of this veritable "Seinfeld" episode.
"Studio Stories: Cereal Bar" (2 mins., HD)
One advantage of working at Pixar: an all-you-can-eat cereal buffet. I'd actually prefer to have seen the bar itself in live-action.
"Studio Stories: Clean Start" (3 mins., HD)
Pixar personnel goaded each other into shaving themselves bald prior to the start of Toy Story 3, then attempted to go without a shave or a haircut until the end of production. When that proved impossible, a treaty was brokered.
Games and Activities
Powered by BD-Live (or "BDisney-Live," as the menu would have it), the two-player "Toy Story 3 Trivia Dash" is legitimately, refreshingly hard. Play using your remote or by texting from your phone.
"Grab Bag" (4 mins., HD)
Little in-theatre gags. Some sort of 3-D preshow?
"Ken's Dating Tips" (1 min., 30s, HD)
Three TV spots in the form of morsels of advice "for today's bachelor." While the first one's funny, by the third they're already resorting to lame double-entendres ("nice ascot," indeed).
"Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear Commercial" (30s)/"Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear Commercial 2 (Japan)" (30s)
Those creepily convincing ads that made the YouTube rounds earlier this year. Encoded in HD, but the 1.33:1 source is purposefully lo-res and convinces as a facsimile of poorly-tracked VHS.
"Making of the Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear Commercials" (1 min., HD)
A faux-industrial video, credited to the "Cantwell-Sameth School for the Extremely Short Visual Arts." Untreated clips demonstrate the abovementioned ads were shot in HiDef at an aspect ratio of 16x9. I cracked up at the little girl inquiring about the mysterious brown patch on Lotso's fur.
"Internet Chat" (1 min., HD)
A clip from the film reframed as Woody and Buzz having a petty squabble via IM.
"Security Cam" (1 min., HD)
Near as I can tell, this is a Paranormal Activity spoof.
"Gadgets" (1 min., HD)
I know not what the fuck to make of this.
"Dancing with the Stars at Pixar" (2 mins., HD)
"Dancing with the Stars"' Tony and Cheryl choreograph the "Spanish Buzz" tango for a core group of Pixar animators, then perform it for the whole building. Boils down to a soundtrack spot, albeit a mildly entertaining one.
Five Toy Story 3 trailers finish off the set, though the ones marked "silence" and "antipiracy" are slanted towards promoting movie etiquette. The "2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy" package also contains Toy Story 3's retail DVD release and a Digital Copy of the film, natch. Originally published: November 2, 2010.
*Pixar's legacy in American culture should be an interesting one to chart: in an age where kids don't win ribbons at field day anymore, the studio is building a case for the value of the pack leaving a few children behind. return