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By Michael Schilf · June 15, 2010
When I was a kid, life was so simple… and exciting!
A legion of G.I. Joe’s would face off against the smaller yet crafty little Lego legionaries as they fought to the death among the sand castles of the infamous K-Town box, while a third army of Transformers would disrupt the madness, dodging Lego spears and SCUDD missles in a fruitless attempt to rescue He-Man and his fellow Masters of the Universe from drowning in the Kool-Aid moat dividing the two warring forces. And in the middle of the melee, the fighting would abruptly stop as a rubber band meteor shower launched an assault over all the land, exploding with pin-point accuracy, knocking out scores of men, taking no prisoners. In the end, after the cosmic hailstorm subsided and the five-gallon bucket flood of ‘82 washed over them, only a few remained standing… to live and fight another day.
That was me, almost three decades ago, playing just like Toy Story’s Andy (John Morris) and just like the millions of other kids in the backyard sandboxes today. I have countless memories of my toys (usually involving a battle, ending with an unnatural disaster like the five-gallon bucket flood of ‘82), but as an only child, my toys were my friends… my best friends. They brought me to far and distant worlds one could only dream of. My toys are certainly part of who I am today, and if you came over to my house and looked in my attic, you’d still find the old Joe’s and Legos that once shared some of the best times of my life.
This is why the Toy Story franchise is genius (not to mention all the merchandising opportunities), and I don’t throw that word around lightly. Really. Genius. Regardless of age, we can all relate, and as parents, each film takes us away from our adult worries (the mortgage, the insurance, the job) to the days when playing was pure. Toy Story 3, like its forefathers, reminds us that we can all do well by picking up our old toys every once in a while, batteries not included.
It’s no surprise I had some pretty high expectations for Toy Story 3. I mean, this is Pixar we’re talking about: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up (each one winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature). These guys don’t just reach for the gold; they clutch it like a vice grip and defend their belts time and time again. And I must concur that the third film in the franchise delivered on all cylinders. Pixar only has to wait until March to pick up yet another Best Animated Feature Academy Award.
Sure, that’s easy for me to say now, but does Toy Story 3 deliver? Well, this time around, Andy is 18 and just a few days away from going to college and leaving his mother, sister, and childhood toys behind. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the old gang are worried about their uncertain future: will they be “yard sale” fodder, boxed up in the attic, or tossed to the curb, nothing more than wretched refuse?
Through a series of unexpected circumstances (no spoiler alerts here), the gang finds themselves donated to Sunnyside Preschool, receiving a warm welcome from the other day care toys, including the leader Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), the smooth-talking Malibu Ken (Michael Keaton), and the Frankensteinish Big Baby. At first, the place seems like a dream come true – especially for Barbie (Jodi Benson), leg warmers included, who moves into Ken’s dream house – but things are not always as they appear.
Director Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story 2) has done Pixar proud by finding a way not only to improve but blow the previous two Toy Story films out of the water. Of course, Unkrich gets a lot of help from the screenwriters: Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), John Lasseter (Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Cars), and Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story). Talk about a star studded creative team. The script, as expected, is awesome. Fast, smooth scenes. Incredibly economical. Witty dialogue that doesn’t try to be funny; it just is funny. And of course amazing visual story telling: the 3-D experience literally moves you in your seat.
We get to enjoy some of the old favorites: Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger, Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickless and Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Sarge (R. Lee Ermey), and who can forget the Squeeze Aliens: “The Claw!” And when the bad guys discover Buzz’s Spanish mode, it’s like Puss in Boots meets Star Command, and he’s ready to save the wrong world while wooing Jessie, his self-appointed senorita.
But the new additions are what separates the film from it’s predecessors. A preschool full of toys? The sky literally is the limit. And Unkrich, Arndt, Lasseter, and Stanton take full advantage. From henchmen like the rock monster Chunk (Jack Angel) and the gooey octopus Stretch (Whoopi Goldberg) to friends and allies such as the Shakespearian trained Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) and the anything but happy Chuckles the Clown (Bud Luckey), Toy Story 3 pulls us into a whole new world of fantastic and wonderful toys.
The real epoxy of the film, however, are the villians. Lot’s O’-Huggin’ Bear is a multi-layered antagonist, with more masks and surprises than hugs and kisses, and a truly tragic backstory that makes it impossible not to empathize with the enemy. Big Baby is a cross between Steinbeck’s Lenny Small and Frankenstein’s Monster: sensitive, missing her mommy, and sumo strong. And then there’s my personal favorite: Malibu Ken.
Maybe the best performance of the film comes from Michael Keaton as the self-indulged, well-dressed, and alledgedly ‘not a girl’s toy’ Ken. Of course, Ken has a closet of every outfit that’s ever been made for the handsome hunk, and Unkrich and his team take full advantage of this as the plastic adonis literally ‘gets his groove on’. Be prepared to see Ken at his finest: in a blue leopard paw print shirt, as a kung fu master, even in an astronaut suit.
So, do I think you should see Toy Story 3? Every part of me says yes – especially the part that secretly envies Ken’s wardrobe. It’s an wonderful film for the entire family, and after you see it, you might even find yourself up in the attic digging out your old toys.
I did, and my three-year-old son is now learning all about the epic battles between the firepower of G.I. Joe and the engineering prowess of Legomen. He even built his first Lego car, batteries not included.
Grade: A+, Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up