Movie Review: Toy Story 3
The Charlotte Observer
It had to happen someday, and this is the day: After 15 years, Pixar has finally made a movie you don’t have to see.
You probably will want to see “Toy Story 3,” because a second-shelf Pixar effort stands above 80 percent of the fare that will slog into multiplexes this year. And you’ll probably enjoy it, because it’s good-humored, snappy, endearingly familiar, produced with intelligence and care. But it’s the first Pixar effort that feels less like a creative outpouring and more like an obligation met to satisfy a distribution schedule.
It combines elements of the first two films, which came out in 1995 and 1999, though its 3-D technology is far more sophisticated.
The plot comes from the first film: Reliable cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) has to rescue his fellow toys from physical abuse and deal with a Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) who thinks he’s an astronaut.
The emotional component comes from the sequel: The toys feel abandoned and unloved, as Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack) did before, because Andy is leaving them.
“Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich edited the first film and co-directed the second, so he knows the characters. He has upped the stakes for a computer-age audience with short attention spans: He hurls new characters at us in scene after scene and escalates the tension until the toys are faced not just with disfigurement but with extinction.
The story begins when all the toys except Woody are donated to Sunnyside Daycare. (Andy is taking his toy cowboy to college. Does anyone beside me find this odd?)
The toys meet Lotsohuggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), a folksy egomaniac. Lotso assures them they’re in toy paradise, loved by generations of kids who come and go and repaired if they break down.
What he doesn’t say is that they’ll serve an apprenticeship in the toddlers’ room, where preschoolers smash and puke on them, so Lotso’s pals can take it easy with the older kids. Lotso will decide their fate; anyone who rebels must deal with a rubber octopus and a creepy baby doll.
Unkrich, who’s one of four credited writers, has created a sad and memorable villain in Lotso, who’s also a victim of abandonment and has lost his moral compass. (He must surely be based on Andy Griffith’s Lonesome Rhodes from “A Face in the Crowd.”)
Unkrich has a flair for sight gags: Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) has to stick his facial features onto a tortilla, so he looks like something in a Dali painting, and re-programmed Buzz spouts romantic Spanish and does flamenco steps.
But none of the other new characters get any development. We know where we are with Ken and Barbie (Michael Keaton and Jodi Benson), who come in for the usual tired jokes, but what’s the point of introducing a hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants – and giving him nothing to do, which is a waste of velvet-voiced Timothy Dalton – unless you’re making a naughty pun for adults or trying to sell more plush toys?
The film runs with “Day & Night,” perhaps the most brilliant short Pixar has produced in a quarter-century.
Teddy Newton (who has a memorable cameo in “Toy Story 3” as a talking phone) directed this six-minute ode to exploring the unknown, as blobby characters representing light and darkness tout their own virtues, try to dominate each other, then realize they cannot be whole alone.
Pixar packaged this creative hymn to the unfamiliar with its safest, most familiar feature ever. As enjoyable as “Toy Story 3” may be, I hope this short indicates the future direction of the company.