What, Between the Seats is too cool to pass up the chance on reviewing one of the summer’s most anticipated blockbusters? I think not! My father took my sister and I to see the first Toy Story film 15 years ago and, while it was not my favourite movie of all time, I liked it a lot. The sequel didn’t do as much for me although it certainly had its fair share of moments enough for me to recommend it to most people (except, ironically, my father). 11 years onwards and Pixar Studios release a conclusion to the story of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the gang. Truth be told, I was not excited to see the film. I like Pixar, they’ve made some great stuff, but I’m not head over heels in love with them as many are, and the prospect of a sequel rather than an original storyline had me ever so slightly disappointed. Not completely, just a little bit. Seeing the movie was in fact more of a ‘spur of the moment’ type of decision. I wasn’t doing anything for a few of hours after work, and given how the movie was playing on perhaps 4 or 5 screens at the local multiplex, there was most likely a presentation starting pretty soon, so...
So I went to see it. And enjoyed it. Nay, enjoyed it tremendously. The opening 5 minutes alone had me laughing until it hurt, as was everybody in the audience, from the elderly, the parents to the children and babies. It was hysterical, well thought out, well written and exemplified the wild and crazy imagination children have when they play with their toys, only it was Pixar doing it with top notch animation and some wicked Dolby Surround audio. The transition from that opening scene, which is in reality just Andy as a child playing with the gang of toys we know so well, to the present day when Andy is a young man preparing for college is very well done. It’s storytelling through montage, but actually done well, with just the right amount of emotion. Pixar doesn’t pour it on, but they sprinkle just enough for this scene, as well as most emotional scenes throughout the movie, to feel just right. They’re aren’t forcing you to choke up, they aren’t pleading for you to choke up, they simply want to you to understand that these characters, the boy and his toys included, are living things who can be affected by what goes on around them. A trilogy of movies literally based on toys that I can give a hoot about, really give a hoot about. Fancy that.
With Andy off to college, Woody and his band need a new place to ‘be toyed with’ as Rex the dinosaur so eloquently (and creepily) puts it. Through a complicated series of events that I shan’t spoil, the toys eventually land at Sunnyside Daycare, where they first meet a large group of plush and plastic characters who have been there for some time, including Ken of Barbie fame (Michael Keaton), a baby doll and the self-appointed ring leader, Lotso (Ned Beatty) a purple teddy bear who smells of strawberries. Most of the gang are entirely satisfied at first, except for Woody, who is convinced they should have stayed back home, regardless of what Andy would have done with them, such as keep them in the attic. The rest remain unconvinced and can hardly wait to be used by kids again. There is a catch however. Sunnyside Daycare has two different rooms for the children. While Lotso and his supporters spend the days in the room with the gentler, kinder kids who play in more civilized manner, our protagonists are sent to the room where the wild things are. Woody in the meantime is trying to find his way back to Andy, but through the process inadvertently spends a day at a young girl’s place. A young girl who loves toys and treats them with the love and respect that toys, as we all know perfectly well, deserve. With Andy now growing up, maybe there is a new place for our gang... But first they must be rescued from Sunnyside!
Toy Story 3 proves to be a more than satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. The pacing is very tight, the new characters are given the right amount of screen time so we can remember them and find them cool, but the stars of the show are the same who were stars 15 years ago: the original protagonists. The humour is spot on almost every time, and I was consistently interested in seeing the toys explore and navigate the real world once again. Being only a few inches tall, they of course must tread different paths than humans to get where they need to go, and their excursions outside of children’s playrooms are one of the elements to the trilogy that I enjoy the most and always have. They are inventive, showcase the individual characteristics of each toy, and are often quite comical. There is plenty of that in Toy Story 3, with Woody and company visiting, be it by choice or necessity, tons of new locations that put their durability to the test.
Arguably what holds the entire film together, and this seems to be the case with most Pixar films, are the characters and the journeys they go through. Pixar always fall back on that one thing that typically makes or breaks a mainstream film: the writing. A good script which respects its audience and the characters which inhabit the film’s world are crucial for a movie of this nature, and the screenwriters do a great job not only tying up the loose ends and providing a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, but also giving audiences a fun standalone adventure as well. The movie doesn’t feel as though its sole purpose is to end the journey. The Sunnyside daycare and Lotso plotlines are a lot of fun and consist of entirely satisfying elements to the story in their own right. Of course, this being the final entry, room must be made to bring the full journey to an end. Without saying too much, I will at least share my admiration for a interesting decision the filmmakers made for the final 5 minutes of so of Toy Story 3. Rather than being a very big moment for the actual toys, the emotional resonance in the final moments is found in the interaction between two human characters via the toys in question. I didn’t entirely see it coming and when it transpired I thought it was a really nice choice.
Given how the movie just opened and that almost every critic, podcast and blogger will be talking about it for the next few weeks, I won’t go any further. Between the Seats does its own thing as you know. Still, I did want to take a few moments to share some thoughts on Toy Story 3. It’s a big movie that hits all the right notes and, even though I never would have predicted me saying this, it is my favourite movie of 2010 thus far.