Before we talk about Toy Story 3, can we talk about the short that played in front of it, Night & Day? Wow! That was great! I haven’t seen something that I enjoyed so much in a very long time. What a whimsical treat. If you haven’t seen it, I will not ruin it, but let’s just say that it is a clever and delightful mix of 2D and 3D animation with gentle humor and a subtle but affecting message about tolerance that is neither overbearing nor condescending, all of it delivered so artfully that if I were in charge of a museum (that’s a job, right, just being in charge of a museum? Museum Boss is the title, probably) I would purchase Night & Day and put it in a golden frame. You can say what you want about the descending path of our collapsing world into a fire-filled ocean of liquid oil, with roving gangs of cheering imbeciles with bits of junk food permanently trapped in the corners of their slack-jawed mouths, but Night & Day was straight up modern ART, shown in thousands of movie theaters across the country to millions of people. NOT BAD. We may be raising an entire generation of UFC enthusiasts with Brawndo running through their veins and Nintendo DS Lites for eyes, but that doesn’t mean that occasional attempts to pull people’s heads out from the rubble won’t be made.
You know what else was great? Toy Story 3!
Now, as a 52-year-old man, I do not care about toys (abandoned or otherwise) and I am definitely not moved by an incoming college freshman’s difficult dorm-decorating choices. You know he’s having sex, right, Woody? You might want to hop in that Attic Box, if you know what I mean. You don’t have the luxury of popping out your Potato Head eyes. My point is that there are so many aspects of Toy Story 3 that should have made it entirely unappealing, and yet it was the exact opposite: it was very very appealing!
I’m not sure if I even saw Toy Story 2, but clearly it doesn’t matter. That movie was pre-9/11 anyway. The world has changed, I can feel it in the
water constant inescapable references to 9/11. I do, however, remember seeing Toy Story 1 in the theater. And I remember loving it. And I remember being surprised by it. At the time, for those of you who were not born yet, Toy Story represented the original shift from hand-drawn animation to computer animation, and as such it made people very nervous. It suggested the disappearance of our own humanity as it would be slowly erased (the argument went) by the age of the machines. In retrospect, this is silly, not only because computer animation still requires the creative input of human illustrators, and not only because filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki and Sylvain Chomet have proven that there is room for both, but because that transition was already over, and we had already lost. At the very least, we might as well have some fun before they rise up and shoot us all in the face from their self-aware lazer-satellites. But most importantly, Toy Story 1 was really well written. It was literally a movie for people of all ages, unlike most children’s movies, which are movies for people of children’s ages with the occasional joke about taxes thrown in to alleviate the parents’ sour mood.
Since then, Pixar has continued to churn out incredibly sophisticated, ageless entertainments. And while Toy Story 3 is not as good as The Incredibles or Wall-E, it is still really fucking good (EARMUFFS!).
So, all the toys are getting put in the attic because Andy is going to college. Except Woody, who is going to college with him? Sure. Good luck carrying that thing around at the kegger, Andy. “Hey, want to come back to my room and listen to the new Jack Johnson album? I can show you my DOLLS!” But whatever. That’s not important. The important thing is that toys have to deal with the pains of old age just like the rest of us. They are callously discarded and eventually end up in prison after getting thrown against a wall, like, a thousand times by forces much larger than themselves. Ultimately, Toy Story 3 is a movie FOR adults. If a normal kids’ movie is 90-percent for kids, with 10 percent of the dialog being aimed directly over their heads as a nod to the parents, the ratio here is inverted. The characters don’t casually make references to Oliver North in order to keep adults’ attention, they have chase scenes in order to keep THE KIDS’ attention. How many six-year-olds in your theater understood that when Lotsa abandoned the toys to the inescapable fire of the junkyard furnace with a venemous “Where is your kid now?” he was actually making a not-even-veiled-at-all (cynically) atheist remark?
And how many of them understood the quiet desperation in the film’s implied answer to Lotsa’s loaded question?
So it makes sense that Toy Story 3 is getting such great reviews, because for the most part, adults are the ones who write them. Not actually sure what kids thought. They probably liked it, too, though. What’s not to like? This movie was rollicking and charming and visually stunning. Also kids are stupid. They don’t know anything. Let me put it this way: I have never met a kid who was smarter than me. Ever.
I am glad that the Toy Story saga is over. (It is over, right?) The very idea of “a Pixar franchise” seems to go against what Pixar does best, which is create compelling and unique and inventive worlds. Going back to the trough for more is for assholes like Shrek. But if you do have to go out, this is the way to do it. With a thoughtful, subtle, funny, mournful, hopeful KABLANG.