Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Let's Hear It for The Toys! A Review of Toy Story 3




I got to see Toy Story 3 in 3-D the other day. Naturally, Pixar worked its storytelling magic once again and hit this CGI cartoon movie out of the park, with a witty script, excellent animation, and top-notch voice talent. (In particular, Michael Keaton's turn as a flamboyant, conflicted Ken doll is a truly inspired performance.) The 3-D quality is also worthy of note, but the narrative doesn't suffer in the slightest if you only see it in 2-D.

This sequel scored very high over on Rotten Tomatoes, so there's little point in me repeating what was already said by many other critics about the dramatic and comedic strengths of the movie here. However, I will say this: Over the course of three movies, the Toy Story franchise has touched on just about everything that can happen to a toy in today's culture. Toys can be playthings that enable imaginative fantasies; targets of brutal abuse; collector's items worth much, much more than their original selling price; heirlooms for the next generation; artifacts that evoke memories from a distant past; charitable donations for other children; or relics destined for the trash heap. Sure, the central plot device of the Toy Story movies—that toys have deep, complex personal identities that they express when no one else is looking—may seem like a cute way of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects for the sake of a whimsical fairy tale. Yet given the wide number of ways that toys can be valued or rejected, cherished or destroyed, it makes sense to me that people can buy into the idea that these items have unique psychologies of their own, even if nary a single thought passes through their plastic heads.

I've heard it argued before that when children engage in play, especially with toys, they are emulating and preparing themselves for what they think adult life is. Yet I think that the popularity of the Toy Story films shows that toys leave a lasting impression on the collective adult mind, even long after we have convinced ourselves that we have outgrown them. In their own ways, toys introduce us to the future roles and worlds we are destined to inhabit, and leave us looking back at them in a mix of fondness, longing, and bewilderment when our adult destinations don't turn out to be what we expected. As Pixar has discovered, that's exactly why toys make great source material for both absurd comedy and existential drama.

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