Thursday, 29 July 2010

Toy Story 3

It's becoming a struggle to find more superlatives to ladle on Pixar, but judging by their latest monumental effort, Toy Story 3, we're going to have to dole out a few more.

What Pixar have done in fact, is the impossible: craft a trilogy that has not only matured and expanded its vision since its inception, but has also continued to mine astonishingly complex and profound notions of identity, age and the delightful notion of what happens when we turn our backs on our beloved possessions. It's a delight to say Toy Story 3 is the best of the bunch; not the funniest perhaps (although there are some killer sequences when it hits its stride later on) but certainly the scariest, most thoughtful, and ultimately, most heart-rending.

It's that awe-inspiringly incisive portrayal of humanity as seen from the knees up through the eyes of plastic toys that adds further ammunition to the argument that these films are no longer for kids, if they ever truly have been. It's not just a watershed moment in cinematic culture; it's a watershed moment in culture full-stop, one that will forever change how we perceive human nature. More baffling (just to jump off track) is how live action films often fail to convey this?

Regardless, we pick up several years after the close of Toy Story 2, where Andy (voice of John Morris) is a 17 year old teen, packing up for college. Grungier posters adorn his walls and a laptop sits atop his desk. The toys, bunged up together, and still led by Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) are terrified of abandonment, fears that seem to be realised when they are mistakenly packed off to Sunnyside Daycare Centre, ruled over by apparently benevolent Lots-O-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty). Soothed by Lotso's platitudes that they'll never be outgrown, it soon becomes clear the strawberry-scented softie and his cronies have a sinister ulterior motive, leading the gang to plot to return to Andy before his college deadline's up...

That set-up is rife with the potential for Pixar to fire on all cylinders and sure enough the daycare centre location offers potent opportunities for action both dark (toddlers laying waste to their charges) and rib-tickling (an extended prison break where, among other things, Mr Potato Head acquires a new personality). More than a series of punchline gags though (audiences will never look at the song Freak Out in the same way again) is the extraordinarily mature outlook Pixar maintains in this final installment in the trilogy; from the start, every aspect of the colourful day-glo visuals is coded with a palpable sense of melancholy and sadness, much of which bubbles under the surface for the most part, guaranteeing the film's appeal for adults nostalgic for their lost, departed selves.

That is until that ending which of course it wouldn't do to spoil here. Not since It's a Wonderful Life has a film's climax united so well all facets, all ages of humanity under one umbrella, without becoming the least bit sickly or sanctimonious. It's a breathtaking achievement. Of course, it goes without saying the tale is beautifully voiced as ever (Michael Keaton's scene-stealing Ken may be the best thing he's ever done) and the pacing and action are spot on from start to finish (the finale at the incinerator is agonisingly tense and hellish, rivalling all the great suspense thrillers). But these are largely by-products (and wonderful ones) when compared to that vast well-spring of transcendent humanity Pixar have somehow tapped into. It's not longer a film; it's a cultural artifact, to be looked back on 30/40/50 years from now as an example of what it means to be human.

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