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Summertime Rolls 2010: Toy Story 3

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If you are going to do a sequel, or a “part three” as is the case here, the hardest thing to achieve must be continuity. You want to recapture the “lightning in a bottle” of a previous movie -that’s what people liked, so you want to give it to them.  But that isn’t easy- besides a good script, there are so many other intangibles that can get in the way.  For instance, how do you round up the same set of actors, the same sets, and the same crew years later?  This is always difficult, and creates a problem, at least for me, in almost all sequels, especially those with a significant number of years between them.

I’m thinking of Lethal Weapon 4, where Riggs doesn’t have his Michael Landon mullet or any reference to his beachside Airstream (although the LW series should be commended for keeping Murtaugh’s house and family consistent throughout all four movies).  Or the Vacation movies, which traded up Griswold kids and houses with each movie (again, the changing of the kids became a running joke, but still).

Its easier with animation.  The Simpsons can (and probably will) go on forever because Bart never ages and the Simpson house will never be torn down and mothballed in a studio.  And when a voice actor dies (RIP Phil Hartman), you can find someone who can do a reasonable impression or retire the character.

Jim Varney, who did the voice for Slinky Dog in the first two Toy Story movies, did die between entries 2 and 3, but they found a damn good Jim Varney impressionist  (Is that a job- Jim Varney impressionist?)  Other than that, though, all the other voice actors are back, 11 years later- even the actor who lended the voice of Andy, who is now of college age and is fittingly providing the voice of a college-aged Andy.

And because its animation, all of the toy characters look the same as when we last saw them.  This enabled me at least to jump right back into the Toy Story universe without missing a beat- it felt truly like a third part of a greater whole rather than a late addition to an already finished story.  And that’s why it will go down as one of the greatest sequels of all time, and probably THE best part 3 of a series.

Actually, some characters have changed.  I mentioned that Andy is now heading off to college.  His little sister is now a pre-teen, and the once hyper dachshund is now fat, sluggish, and old. This passage of time for the “real” characters is contrasted against the perspective of the never-changing toys, and it is goddamn heartbreaking.

As it did in part 2, Toy Story 3 explores in fairly brutal way what it means to be a toy at different points in a child’s life. It pulls zero punches- what DOES happen to our old toys?  The nostalgia we feel for our youth rarely trumps the fact that we outgrow and forget about them. And then what?  Well, that is kind of what Toy Story 3 is about.

The movie opens with the toys praying they will be boxed and put in an attic.  Through a series of misadventures, however, they are donated to a local day care which provides the locale for the central block of the movie.  I loved Sunnyside Day Care- it is one of the great locations in any movie, animated or otherwise. It is bright and shiny, filled with what seems like a whole new cast of loveable characters. Then it gets sinister, and you see those new characters in a new light.

I’m not sure how the animators did it- they show the exact same characters, like Lotso-Huggin’ Bear and a baby with a lazy eye, at different times in the movie and are able to make them both friendly and scary.  Credit should go to the awesome voice work, especially Ned Beatty as Lotso and Michael Keaton as Ken.

Yep, Ken as in “Barbie and Ken.”  Keaton nails the arrogance and vanity in Ken, along with his conflicted allegiance- he is sort of the Lando Calrissian of this movie, and he pretty much steals it.  I also liked Timothy Dalton’s thespian porcupine, and of course, Tom Hanks and Co. return to voice what must be the best cast of extended characters in any movie franchise.

And because we love these characters, and have gotten to know and have grown with them over the course of 15 years, the ending of the movie is pretty affecting and moving for any age. The more I think about it, the more powerful this ending is- it works on so many levels.

But so does the movie.  I feel like I say this every summer, but here we have another Pixar joint as the movie to beat this year.

Note- has there ever been a part three that has been this commercially and artistically satisfying?  Here is a list of Part 3’s that have been better than the Part 2’s in a given series.

Rocky III:  The Goldfinger of the Rocky series.

Goldfinger:  The Goldfinger of the James Bond series.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Took the Man Without a Name character and lifted it to epic status.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Yeah, it turned Freddy into a joke, but  it is also the most visually inventive of the series.  Without it, Freddy would have died on the vine.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation:  A lot of people prefer European Vacation, but this one is way better for my money.  Even though they don’t actually go anywhere.

Die Hard With a Vengeance:  Another movie in which I seem to be alone in my enjoyment.  But come on- its better than Die Hard 2, right?

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