Toy Story 3 and Pixar’s Perpetual Get Out of Jail Free Card
22 June, 2010
This blog post contains spoilers.
Let me just say right off the bat that overall I really liked Toy Story 3. Its heart was in the right place, it had a lot of laughs, and both the very beginning and very end of the film pulled on my heartstrings in all the right ways (Andy’s speech about Woody had me in floods of tears.) It should also be said immediately that even Pixar underperforming is still better than all of their contemporaries at their very best (Studio Ghibli notwithstanding.)
But that is both a blessing and a curse for Pixar. Their standing in film culture is so high that to dare criticize any of their output is tantamount to blasphemy for some people. This is why even a weak effort like Ratatouille finds itself with multiple Oscar nominations simply because it’s a masterpiece compared to the likes of Open Season and Barnyard (Like that’s really hard.) But the Pixar masterminds aren’t artistic gods. Every great filmmaker you can think of has made at least one film their oeuvre could do without. Why? Because they are human beings, just as capable of error as everyone else. To shoot down anyone who has the courage to say that The Incredibles is 30 minutes too long, that WALL-E ceases to be a masterpiece as soon as the human race turns up, and that even Up goes a little too bonkers in the third act is not only unfair, it’s also wrong. It is the reason why mediocrity rules the day, because anyone who demands higher standards from the entertainment industry is dismissed as a snob (Which, incidentally, is the definition of snobbery, as it’s saying one opinion is better than another.)
So while Toy Story 3 works really well in several places, I have no reservations in saying that it is also deeply flawed and far from the masterpiece everyone is making it out to be. It’s not that the Emperor has no clothes, it’s just that he forgot to put his pants on today. You know, like having a plot that isn’t just a complete rehash of the second film in the series with elements of The Brave Little Toaster thrown in for good measure. Let’s see, we have the threat of Andy no longer caring about his toys, a prison-like setting for said toys, an antagonistic toy whose cynicism tries to bring everybody down, and a climactic set-piece in a massive location in which the toys try to get back home. Along the way, we have several scenes of the toys facing their own mortality as children inevitably grow out of them. Now, I wasn’t expecting a story on the level of King Lear, but a little more ingenuity would’ve been nice.
Watching the film felt like getting into the heads of the writing staff. I could just see them agonizing for hours on end over how to top themselves in terms of action, sentiment, and suspense. The resulting film is a textbook example of how — in Mr. Plinkett’s words — biggerer is not always betterer. Sometimes, stakes can be so high that the tension ceases and the story alienates rather than involves. For me, the moment came when I realized I was watching Pixar’s abstract portrayal of life in a concentration camp, with rewrites from David Lynch thrown in for good measure. Of course, this comes to life the most in the already-infamous “incinerator scene.” The rest of the audience was practically holding their breaths wondering how their beloved characters whom the writers wouldn’t have the guts to kill off but let’s pretend it’s inevitable anyway would get out of this fine mess. I, on the other hand, just thought it was weird. And overdone. See, when Woody and Buzz were trying to escape the clutches of the sadistic Sid in the first film, it felt like watching a stripped-down horror movie where the threat of violence was tangible and yet restrained. Here, the horror elements were so crazy and desperately threatening that it bordered on silly. It’s like the difference between the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Shutter Island.
In the end, I was left with a film that I enjoyed and appreciated mostly for reasons related to nostalgia, which I think explains the buckets of praise being heaped on the film like it’s the Citizen Kane of animated features. It’s not on par with the original Toy Story by a long shot, or even Toy Story 2 for that matter, and once the insane hype dies down in a year or so, I think more and more people will start coming out of the woodwork and echoing the same sentiments. Just remember: It’s okay to dislike the new Pixar movie. Don’t listen to any halfwit who tells you otherwise.
But Armond White still sucks.