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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toykyo Story

Toy Story 3

Dir:Lee Unkrich

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I remember seeing Toy Story in 1995 and being mesmerized at the ability of the CGI, and what mesmerized me about this CGI world was how much of it looked "real." And in a strange and brilliant way, these films take what's most superficial about our world, takes away all physical manifestations of the "real," and gives us back types of ourselves; in a way that is what all movies aspire to do; or should. Lots of people use "magical" to describe these films, but what makes them "magical" is that they aren't magic, they are simple landscapes for us to tie in our own imaginations and our own creative energies.

The Toy Story trilogy transcended being only technological achievements through its ability to handle multiple levels of entertainment, but also meaning. The reason we care about these toys is that they face philosophical problems similar to ourselves, but since their outward value is so tied in with a brand identity, those philosophical conundrums are even more desperate. The first film can be seen as the existential birth of Buzz Lightyear; what made this Buzz different from all the other Buzz Lightyears? What was his life now that all he thought was real was an illusion? His attempt at flight was the best moment in that film, and an encapsulation of its main concern. The second film can be seen as a film about value; on a literal level the value of the individual toys themselves, but also the value of relationships and action.

This third film concerns the final part of this existential arc: death. Where the identities and those values are either strengthened or obliterated by the looming presence of eventual negation. This is justly a film that gives the proper weight, darkness, and sadness to themes of loss and obsolescence; but does so without romanticizing or over-adorning it. Woody's pragmatic acceptance of the loss of some toys that didn't make it to the events of this film is an incredible moment that can easily be missed.

The plot of the film is near identical to that of the late Thomas M. Disch's novel The Brave Little Toaster, which was adapted into one of the all-time great "kids" films of the same name in 1987 by Jerry Rees (John Lasseter, who founded Pixar initially was to direct that film, but his attempts to make a CGI version proved too costly). Both films concern the owner of animated inanimate objects who leaves those objects as they grow up; and those objects go on a frightening journey to try and reunite with their beloved owner. Like Toaster, this film may be a bit frightening to younger kids, and both of their most intense scenes take place in junkyards: the valley of the shadow of death for things like toys and toasters. But the conclusions of the two works are both fulfilling, both valid, but very different.

Toy Story 3, from its first frames, shows the power of imagination, both by demonstrating it as a film, but also showing us something we didn't ever see in the first two films: the toys at play in Andy's imagination. The film then jumps over a decade into the future. The toys are now relegated to a box, fearing what happens when Andy leaves for college. After a series of misadventures they end up at a day-care, where they meet Lots-o-Huggin' bear, the seemingly jovial caretaker of lost and discarded toys. But things take a sharp turn for the worse.

A good portion of the second-half of Toy Story 3 is a prison escape film; this sub-genre is important in that some of the greatest (Grand Illusion) and most philosophical of films (A Man Escaped) have been this type of film. The journey to freedom from captivity holds many significant parallels to the existential journey; primarily the use of personal action that holds the chance of greater personal risk (and at times imminent failure as in The Great Escape) in the face of a system or existence which is not conducive to life; or at least life outside of its basic functions of mechanical survival.

For those of you who may not care what the philosophical implications are of where Mr. Potato head's "essence" lies; in his parts or in his base?, this is a wonderfully entertaining film. For those looking for a smart and emotionally weighty film that earns each and every one of its emotional moments this is the best film in a long time I've seen that does that too. And that's why the final scene had me a teary eyed mess. It was a pure moment; even though it was all generated by computers, it was as pure as any moment in cinema in expressing a human emotion that words can't always do. This is not just good for a "kids" movie or an animated film. As far as depth of emotion and philosophical adeptness this can hold its weight with Bresson or Ozu (Tokyo Story with toys? An inverse of Balthassar?). Miyazaki's Totoro makes a cameo in this film, which is fitting, both as an homage, and also as a reminder that films like Toy Story 3, My Neighbor Totoro, and even The Brave Little Toaster, can be as revelatory, as honest, and as great as anything else. Its a reminder of the imagination, care, and aspirations that make great movies; lessons which movies claiming to be about "real life"should take note .

- The Brave Little Toaster
- Tin Toy
- Fetiche the Mascot

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