By Marc Bauer
I was seventeen years old when the first Toy Story movie came out, (the same age Andy is in the latest installment). I went to a high school for Science and Technology, so the fact that this film was computer generated was something uniquely interesting. I went for the novelty of the film, not thinking anything much of it at the time. I walked out with many new friends; Woody, Buzz, Hamm, Slinky, Rex, Bo Peep and so many more. Toy Story quickly became a favorite film of mine, becoming the first film I saw more than three times in the theatre; a distinction that few films have received.
I was twenty-one when Toy Story 2 came out, and I was amongst the first in line to see the sequel. The first film was so groundbreaking, breathtaking and heartwarming; I couldn’t imagine what they could even do to top the first film. I sat in an afternoon showing, in a theatre filled with children; some younger, some older, but many the same age as I was. We all sat in this room, strangers united by a common theme; childhood nostalgia.
Now I am 32, but I still carry the war wounds of youth. My bedroom has toys from Where the Wild Things Are, Sesame Street and The Muppets on shelves on the wall. My childhood home still has the old games and toys in the closets, and try as I might; I just can’t part with the rag doll that I received the day my parents brought me home from the hospital.
My rag doll isn’t named Woody, his name is Charlie. He sits in the corner of my bed, often buried under the pillows. Sometimes when he falls to the floor his absence isn’t noticed until the next time I change my sheets. I may have grown older, but I have never grown up. I do not believe that there is ever a time to put away childish things. It is only through these vestiges of our past that we can define who we are currently.
Now, at 32, I ventured again to the theatre to see Toy Story 3. I was apprehensive of seeing this movie in the theatre, since I knew it would be filled with loud children. I’ve been waiting to see another installment of Toy Story for longer than most of these kids have been alive, why should I have to share it with them? But, if I wanted to see it, I would need to endure the tears, the screams and the kids talking to everyone and no one all at once. When I was a child, my mother would walk me out of the theatre if I made noise, so as not to ruin the experience for everyone else in the auditorium, and it seemed the normal reaction at the time. These days, if a child starts crying, the parents continue watching the film, ignoring the child until it cries itself to sleep, the audience makes enough fuzz about it, or an usher makes them take the child outside. Not so at Toy Story 3. Every sob, scream or cry was immediately met with a parent walking the child into the lobby. Every parent in the room was more interested in the film than the kids. Sometimes, the biggest kids are the ones hidden deep inside of ourselves.
But, before I get gushing on the positives, there are a few negatives that I need to get out of my system. Several of the toys from the earlier films did not return; they had to slim the herd a little if they planned on introducing new characters. Slinky Dog originally voiced by Jim Varney is now voiced by Blake Clark. Now, with the bad out of my system, let’s get to the good. And boy howdy is there a lot of good to talk about.
Everyone is all grown up; Andy is off to college, Molly is reading Tween magazines, and even Buster, the family dog, has gotten grey and fat. It is an undeniable fact of life that everything ages; except for toys. Woody, Buzz, Slinky, Jesse, Hamm and the crew look just as they did in the past films. Woody’s damaged arm from TS2 was repaired, and even the fixed stitching looks as good as it did originally. I could add something ponderous about the immutable quality of toys and how their inability to age is a metaphor for the innate childhood whimsy that exists inside every one of us; but I’ll refrain from the heavy-handed.
The film starts in another world, one created entirely in the imagination of a young boy, alone in a room full of toys. You’re never alone as long as you have your favorite toy at your side, and a bedroom is never a bedroom as long as you have imagination. An elaborate scene, created out of pieces of all the great genres, unfolds. The scene dissolves into Andy, alone in his room playing while his mother films him with a camcorder. This segues into Andy’s room today, new posters adorn the walls, a computer sits on the desk, and the toys stay hidden away in the toy chest. For a toy, the only purpose is your life is playtime, and when your owner is too old to play, all that remains is the darkness of the toy chest. Worse than the toy chest, however, is what awaits the toys once Andy leaves for college; if they aren’t taken to the attic, they will be tossed in the trash.
I opted for the 3D version of the film, despite my misgivings on the technology. Computer generated imagery lends itself well to the conversion, and honestly, I wanted as much of the film as I could get, and an added dimension means 50% more than standard 2D, right? The 3D is not gimmicky, there are no items flying at your face or swinging out of the screen. 3D when used properly, adds to the realism of a film, allowing you to see the texture of these toys. When the little kids squeeze a teddy bear to their face, you too can feel the little hairs tickling your nose. (By the way, the bear in question, the Ned Beatty voiced Lot’s-o-Huggin’ Bear aka Lotso, has over 1 million individual hairs; how’s that for texture?) The 3D is well worth the additional dollars.
Speaking of Ned Beatty, he is just one of many new voices to join the already impressive cast list; joining the ranks this film are Michael Keaton, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Kind. Like any great animated film, you don’t even notice the voices until you see the names in the credits, and each of the new characters work so well because of they don’t stand out.
That which makes the film work so well is simple. Toys don’t cry. They feel the same emotions we do; love and loss, hope and despair, envy, anger, spite, fear and compassion. You look in their faces and see the emotions you are feeling, because these playthings are extensions of whom you are and who you’ve grown to become. The stoic plastic eyes are somehow able to mirror the emotions you feel, but they are never able to water up. Just as they are there when you are playing and having a great time, so too are they there when you are broken, sad and miserable. Those stoic plastic eyes WANT to cry, they just can’t.
If you have kids that have already seen the first 2 parts, you should make it a point to see this movie as soon as you can. If you don’t have kids, don’t hesitate to see the movie, idly dismissing it as a children’s film. It is deep, warm, richly engrossing and ultimately fulfilling. I’ve liked many movies, but this is the first film I’ve stood up and cheered for in a long while. There is not a single wasted moment, nor a shot that isn’t filled with beauty in the entire film. As long as you have the childish wonderment inside you, you will never grow old, and you will never die out.