Thursday, 22 September 2011

Toy Story 3

Saying how you think a film could be improved isn't arrogant or disrespectful. People are more comfortable with 'it's too sentimental' or 'it's too long' than 'it should be less sentimental' and 'I would make it shorter'. If you have judgement then you should be constructive and offer an alternative vision.

The basic story of Toy Story 3 - a child grows up and goes to university; what will happen to his toys? - is a good one. There are a number of things you can do with this premise.

Toy Story 3 takes the first step towards something interesting and enriching  just as the first step of Up, the home lifted from the ground by a cloud of balloons, offered so much promise. Would we see challenging things for children, new things, truly breathless things? No. We see not much more than shortcuts to the surface of emotion, to a sadness and a reflection that dries out as quickly as the tears.



Firstly, I think that it's a shame that neither Andy nor Bonnie, to whom he gives his toys at the end, ever discover that the toys are alive. How would they treat them? How would the toys act? Given that the toys are meant to be representations of people or at least types of people, then the revelation that they are alive would open up a raft of possibilities. Could they ever be disposed of or left lying around? What of their individualism, seeing as there are, for example, "100 million just like" Barbie? If Andy knew about the toys the story would become one about the responsibilities that come with being an adult. It wouldn't be just about moving on or leaving childish things behind. The themes we are given are rigged. We know he won't take his toys to university.

A third film should give creators some leeway to try new variations once the basis of the story has been established - to improvise on the foundational chords of the first two. Trilogies tend to either return to a starting point, with new light shed upon an old order, or opened to a new future and a new order.

Each Toy Story film is essentially the same as the last – the toys are separated from Andy. Toy Story 3 ends differently but with the beginning of the same story : Andy is reincarnated as Bonnie. “To infinity and beyond”, toys never die. Will these miniature Peter Pans really go through these upheavals of death and renewal for eternity? They never really grow up.


Interesting avenues again briefly appear...

Dragged towards a hellish furnace on a pile of trash, the toys look to their erstwhile enemy Lotso to help them. He climbs to the button, saying he wants to stop the machinery, and then runs away leaving them to their fate with the words : "Where's your kid now, Sheriff?"

It sounds like 'Where's your God now?'

Earlier Lotso, "the evil bear who smells of strawberries", shouted : "Think you're special? You're a piece of plastic, you were made to be thrown away".

What if he had said 'You're flesh and blood, you were made to die'?

These troubling ideas (too troubling for children if laid out in the open quite so clearly) and incidents end up going nowhere as the film returns to the antiseptic world (no insects, or dust) of being played with. Their minds are not opened by danger, by exposure to new ways of living, or by the bonds they make with each other. All the toys want is to be part of someone else's story, such as the opening chase over a crumbling railway bridge. They are happiest when floppy and submissive. Mrs Potato Head “deserve[s] respect”, she says, because she has “over 30 accessories” and not because she is a living thing independent of her owner. The toys do not mature. They don't even look scratched or beaten up with age (which would help put across how time makes them obsolete). I suppose, as a throwaway joke, it is funny to hear a toy say that it improvises its role, but it is also sad. They wear the same expression as they are flung about, made and forced to smile. And they like it.


Toy Story 3's 'darkness' (Lotso's prison camps, destruction by fire) is nihilistic. Critics have said it is an allegory for Communism or Socialism or even the Holocaust. Does it make the film more worthwhile if you can constipate out a link between its simple story of bullying, control and violence to something else more 'adult' or 'intellectual' or politically significant? There are no specifics in the film that justify these parallels, let alone illuminate the story through them.


Nothing comes of the darkness. It is only there to scare and terrify kids. It is a black hole. It isn't mitigated by imagination or transfigured by the good of the characters or of the world.*


*   *   *

What would have been interesting in a story about people growing up is if, just as Andy realises that he can live without his mother, the toys realise that they can live without Andy (or any humans at all for that matter). What if he had gone to his box of toys at the end and they weren't there? What if they had taken the same step into adulthood?

I understand that they are toys with a toy outlook (and it is admirable that they are a little more than stand-ins for people) but, when so human in other respects (and we are invited to empathise with them), their actions seem eternally childlike, their existence depressing and their minds stuck on original factory setting. If they are to stay on this smiley treadmill, the film would need to be changed quite significantly to properly grasp at all this would or could entail.

It is charming that Chuckles the toy clown has a tag from her owner that reads “My heart belongs to Daisy” but it appears that it actually does. The toys cannot just be. They are unable to form a proper family together, one that gives them meaning and security, not without the benevolent Parent / Guardian / Owner / Friend / Companion / God above. All this is a little abstract for young children. There is nothing that they can relate to, from the toys point of view, as they grow up.

This would work better if the toys were more literally 'given life' by their owners. It would work better if a good owner had good toys and a bad one bad toys (touching on nature / nurture) but bully Sid in Toy Story's nightmarish toys turn out to be perfectly friendly. The fact that the toys are more than what they were made to be makes it even more disappointing that the protagonist toys are not allowed to make a break of their own into the adult world.

Although the toys are saddened that Andy may not want them any more, they are never angry at him. Their loyalty is almost perfect. They wish for the joy, enlightenment and fulfilment that comes from being played with. They never truly turn against him.

It reminds me of Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus has profound doubts about whether he is the son of God and about what God may want from him. He rails at God but never, not once, doubts that he exists. It is those hard yards, much like the ones avoided in Toy Story 3 (turning against Andy or Andy realising that they are alive), that would have made the narrative stronger and deeper. Where is that lack of faith and certainty that one would expect? Will they reject their Gods for a life of self-made fresh-grown morality? The little green aliens end up controlling the claw that they worship but can't make anything of this discovery of the mechanics of the world.


*    *    *


In Up the antagonist Muntz fell to his death from a Zeppelin. In Wall E human beings were polluting, obese babies. In Cars the fundamentals of the human character were depicted in the automobiles – farting. Toy Story 3 continues the trend of mean-spiritedness. For a second or two it looked as if Lotso was going to help the toys and turn over a new leaf. Instead, despite being told that his former owner replaced him (the start of his bitterness) precisely because she loved him and missed him, and despite being saved by Woody from the trash compactor the film would not let him be good. Evil cannot be transformed. In fact irredeemable Evil exists, children, and deserves to be tied to the front of a truck for flies to splatter into him for the rest of his life (which is neverending, don't forget). Stuff the stuffed bully.


Why? What if Andy had taken Lotso to College? It's a thought.

What I did enjoy, in Toy Story 3, how children like Bonnie are seen as givers of meaning, as nurturing, as magical (the way she strokes Jessie's cheek when she receives her). It is a shame that that goodliness was not extended to everyone or everything. A film doesn't need a message or a moral (and, yes, destruction can be fun) but does it need a negative one? Defeating evil is one thing, but revelling in your victory with schadenfreude is quite another. Who knows what the film-makers meant but this element of the story leaves a sour taste.

I enjoyed how Mrs Potato Head could leave her eye somewhere else and still see through it remotely. I enjoyed how Mr Potato Head could stay alive, his mind and soul somehow intact, with his eyes ears and mouth embedded in a tortilla. The latter is perhaps the only flash of imagination, of something that makes you giggle or sends shivers down the spine.

I have always thought that Pixar's films, and many of the new breed of animated films, are schizophrenic. Half the film is aimed over children's heads at the adults who they know are accompanying them. The other half is the simplest and most banal 'kids' stuff' whose progression can be guessed after five minutes. At times, parents and their children are watching two separate films. What is wrong with a children's film for children? Why do we need any innuendo, or meaningless pop cultural shout-outs, or tedious and strange riffs on Ken's 'girliness'? Something can be wholesome without being safe.

A good story for children is a good story for anyone : Aesop, Roald Dahl, Kipling, C.S.Lewis...I think of animated films like the Danish animation Valhalla or America's own Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs or anything from Studio Ghibli. They are fun and clever, excting and enthralling for children and adults on the same level.

Toy Story 3 isn't fun or funny. I think that the gags are too obvious. What is most disappointing is how predictable it is. Once a ball is set rolling down a hill, you can never predict exactly where it will go. But Pixar can. Once the story starts it is only ever going in one direction...


*In a way the hands of the film-makers' are tied, as they cannot fully follow through on all the implications of life and death that occur to us because we are in a children's film. We are just left with unnecessary dread.

16 comments:

  1. Wonderful and thoughtful expression of disappointment (I wouldn't really call it a "take-down") of TS3, Pixar, and what they stand for. Jamie would like this piece I think, as he's often harping on how Pixar films are socially conservatie - I never really knew what he meant; aesthetically conservative sure but other than The Incredibles they seemed to be somewhere between apolitical and totally mainstream PC/liberal. But your point about how the toys are helpless without a master is thought-provoking in that sense (and brings to mind a discussion some of us had on The Lion King in a recent thread).

    The more I think about it, Toy Story 3 seems to be a remake of Brave Little Toaster (which, I understand has Lasseter at the helm itself). It even has the inferno at the end, and the main character going off to college. I wonder what you think of that film? True, it does not go in the directions you implicate here - the character does not find out his inanimate objects are really "alive" and if anything it has a happier ending if I recollect right, as he ends up taking them to college I think.

    But the quirkiness of the objects chosen - it's so less obvious to see "magic" in a toaster and vaccuum cleaner than in toys already marketed towards children - and the deeper darkness of the movie factor in its favor, I think. There's also a poignant, out-of-nowhere scene with a flower stretching towards its reflection in the toaster and then collapsing and beginning to wilt (I included it in my forthcoming clip show, sandwiched between Blue Velvet and Wall Street).

    The film was based

    I liked Toy Story alright, but in light of the earlier, I think better film (that's Toaster not TS1), was a bit disappointed and wouldn't dispute what you say here. Ultimately I think the best Pixar film might be Wall-E; it's the only one that seems to reach beyond the "safe" and contain the genuine possibility of sadness (I'm not sure why this is, maybe it was just the mood I was in when I watched it and it's not really in the film) and it's easily the most well-crafted and beautifully designed of any of them.

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  2. Didn't finish my thought. The film was based on a one-off children's book by Thomas Disch, a sci-fi author and anti-Catholic playwright who ended up killing itself. It was this discovery, in light of his obituary in 2008, that led me to re-visit the film, write it up, and begin my adult engagement with it. I hope I'm not imposing too much real-world knowledge on it, and it was not Disch but the man who would later craft Toy Story who apparently worked on the film, but I do think there's something to the film itself.

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  3. There's elements of TS3 that I like. The "Big Baby" character is genuinely sad and moving at the end, thinking of the girl who played with him not as "Daisy" but "Mama", but the film glosses over it. Most of the toys have the maturity and personalities of adults, more or less (Mr. Potato Head says of Andy, "Tell that kid to get a hair-cut"), but here is a child, an infant, a toy that can never grow up, never grow out of its dependency on its owner, whom it will inevitably lose. What a sad hypothetical existence, but in the film the full implications of it are glossed over by tossing Lotso in the garbage (echoes of Vader in ROTJ) and a parting raspberry.

    The meanspiritedness that lies deep down in Pixar's stuff, I think, is part of a larger American tradition in children's entertainment and animation in particular to emphasize discipline and punishment, that there are "bad children" who deserve spankings or tough-love in order to grow out of their anti-social behavior. Depressing condition, really. The "Toy Story" movies are particularly conservative about it-- there's the bully who tortures toys made into an awful villain for our heroes. A sensible choice, a realistic one. But we never bother to learn why he tortures toys, and the presentation is so shallow that we never are allowed to think of him as anything other than a monster-in-training. And really, what's so bad about what he's doing, in real life? Eviscerating his little sister's dolls, that's plainly wrong. But it's not as though he's torturing animals-- as far as he knows, the toys aren't alive, or anything, and yet to watch the film you'd think that this kind of behavior is a warning sign of sociopathy or serial-killing. If anything, it's likely a warning sign that the bully himself has been victimized, but far be it from a Disney film to bother with that.

    Lotso strapped to the front of the truck reminds me of the crucifiction, or all the ones the apostles went through after their master's demise, some of them mockeries or parodies of his death on the part of their tormenters. Lotso tried to crucify the toys ("Where's your kid now?" is cribbing "Where's your messiah now?", from "Ben Hur" or "The Ten Commandments", I forget which), and now he's crucified himself.

    The villains of Disney and Pixar films are generally bad, through and through. They tend not to have any bits of redeeming virtue in them, no complications that allow you to see things from their point of view, and become more dangerous. Obviously I see plenty of this in "Star Wars" and certain anime, but there's some of it in American animation, nowadays. Tai Lung, the slighted apprentice of "Kung Fu Panda", is a wonderful study in shades of gray, a master of martial-arts who is merciless in his quest for revenge, but motivated by a very intimate, down-to-earth longing for his father-figure's approval, and by certain aspects is right to feel betrayed by him. He may not be redeemed, but at least for a while he is redeemable.

    Oh, and the whole subplot on Ken's "girliness" was just plain odd, to me. Especially since they rendered him as some kind of a 70's swinging bachelor, straight as a razor.

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  4. MovieMan,

    Thanks very much. I didn't want it to be "take-down" so I'm glad it didn't come across as one.

    I didn't read the comments on The Lion King but I will now. I saw Brave Little Toaster a long time ago, so long ago I might be imagining it(!). I love the sound of that image of the flower and its reflection. I'll try to see it again at some point keeping in mind what you did on second viewing.

    For me Monsters Inc. is Pixar's best film. Frankly it's the only one that truly moved me. Their films are colourful and mighty detailed but the visuals don't bewitch me. What I need is story is character.

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  5. Bob,

    "...thinking of the girl who played with him not as "Daisy" but "Mama", but the film glosses over it"

    I forgot about that. It does gloss over it, which is a problem throughout the film. Woody is sad that Little Bo Peep has gone at the beginning but he doesn't exactly dwell on it.

    "What a sad hypothetical existence, but in the film the full implications of it are glossed over by tossing Lotso in the garbage (echoes of Vader in ROTJ)"

    That's exactly what I thought at the time, so I'll agree with you on the Star Wars reference this time!

    "...is part of a larger American tradition in children's entertainment and animation in particular to emphasize discipline and punishment, that there are "bad children" who deserve spankings or tough-love in order to grow out of their anti-social behavior"

    I don't know enough about America to comment. However, in a children's film, where a good message can be given regardless of how 'realistic' it is without lasting damage, there is little excuse to be mean.

    "And really, what's so bad about what he's doing, in real life? Eviscerating his little sister's dolls, that's plainly wrong. But it's not as though he's torturing animals-- as far as he knows, the toys aren't alive, or anything, and yet to watch the film you'd think that this kind of behavior is a warning sign of sociopathy or serial-killing"

    Good point. He's just mutilating his possessions (to create dolls that represent his inner pain! Sorry for the flagrant over-reading).

    "Lotso tried to crucify the toys ("Where's your kid now?" is cribbing "Where's your messiah now?", from "Ben Hur" or "The Ten Commandments", I forget which), and now he's crucified himself."

    I'm glad you see it like I did. I'm not sure I would go all the way with you on the final 'crucifixion', though there is something to that. I'd have to rewatch that part.

    "Tai Lung, the slighted apprentice of "Kung Fu Panda", is a wonderful study in shades of gray, a master of martial-arts who is merciless in his quest for revenge, but motivated by a very intimate, down-to-earth longing for his father-figure's approval..."

    I caught a little of Kung Fu Panda on TV recently and I liked the leopard. I've just checked to see who Tai Lung and he's the leopard. So I agree.

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  6. Correction on comment to MovieMan

    "What I need is story and character". By that I meant that that is what I think the film needs most.

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  7. "I forgot about that. It does gloss over it, which is a problem throughout the film. Woody is sad that Little Bo Peep has gone at the beginning but he doesn't exactly dwell on it."

    To be fair, the actress who played the role declined to return, so they didn't have much choice (the guy who played Slinky Dog, the "Ernest" guy, passed away and was recast, though). Anyway, a porcelain lamp like that was always an odd choice for a little boy to be playing with (really, any lamp, aside from Luxo Jr.).

    "Good point. He's just mutilating his possessions (to create dolls that represent his inner pain! Sorry for the flagrant over-reading)."

    It might not be an over-reading. Considering toy-psychology, they could be rather happy with what he's done. He's turned them into modern-art. At the very least, they could treat him like Monsters and Igors to his Dr. Frankenstein. That baby-head with the tinker-toy body is especially badass.

    In retrospect, I will say my favorite part of TS3 was seeing the toys in Bonnie's room treat playtime like conservatory students at Juliard taking acting classes. That was cute, and doesn't try to outstay its welcome by being overly sentimental. Pixar's at their best when they're merely aiming for clever, instead of emotional, which at times strikes me as fairly disingenuous.

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  8. "To be fair, the actress who played the role declined to return, so they didn't have much choice"

    Well that's fair enough.

    "...they could be rather happy with what he's done. He's turned them into modern-art. At the very least, they could treat him like Monsters and Igors to his Dr. Frankenstein."

    True!

    "In retrospect, I will say my favorite part of TS3 was seeing the toys in Bonnie's room treat playtime like conservatory students at Juliard taking acting classes."

    I did like that as a quick gag but I mentioned it above as an example of the weird self-awareness / outlook on life they have.

    I said the film is "neither fun nor funny" but that's really a general impression. I think I was amused a couple of times. If someone asked me if I thought it was fun or funny I'd have to say no.

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  9. Bob:

    I don't see the "mean-spiritness" in Pixar's work that you do but by all means keep spinning.

    I absolutely adore this film, Stephen, and will go to the mat for it at some point, but that doesn't mean I'm close-minded to what you have felt and observed here. Joel may be right that it follows up on "Brave Little Toaster" but that's no a bad thing either.

    This paragraph here really shoots the film down:

    "Toy Story 3 isn't fun or funny. I think that the gags are too obvious. What is most disappointing is how predictable it is. Once a ball is set rolling down a hill, you can never predict exactly where it will go. But Pixar can. Once the story starts it is only ever going in one direction..."

    First of all it is tons of fun, it's funny as hell, and it's deeply moving. The 'predictable' thing can be applied to virtually every film, and is usually employed when someone doesn't emotionally connect with something. So for me it is insignificant.

    There is nobody out there who I respect as much as you when it comes to animation Stephen. And even in this case of rare and severe disagreement, I can say I was riveted to your review no matter how many times I shook my head.

    It's brilliantly-written.

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  10. Sam,

    Thanks very much for the kind comment, even though you disagree with my conclusions.

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  11. Hmmmm. I really loved this film, but I can understand your general dislike of Disney and Pixar, and I guess I understand what you're saying here.

    I get what you mean with predictability (though I agree with what Sam said--most of the time when we feel something is predictable it's because we didn't connect with it--if we're really involved, we usually don't care if a film goes down a not-particularly-original path). TS3 does revisit several themes and plot developments from the first two films, as well as a couple elements from The Brave Little Toaster. It's just that I feel it hits most of these beats better than the other two films did--or at least the second half of the film does, the first half just whizzes through everything because it knows we've seen it all before.

    But while I think some of your suggestions for improvement are interesting story ideas, I don't think many of them would work for this movie. You want to open up the negative space of this story and drag a lot of unpleasant truths out into the light, and I think that would in the end change just about every detail about Toy Story's characters and their world. If the toys are revealed to people, it could change the entire world--Are not toys sentient, living creatures? Then shouldn't they be giving rights like anyone else? Think of all the poor toys thrown away every day--how bad would everyone feel if they knew that they had been throwing away people with their own thoughts and dreams and lives like pieces of trash? How could Andy, once he knew his toys were alive, ever allow anyone to mess around with their toys again? What would he do with his? Could he possibly leave them with a little girl likely to lose them or break them at some point? Everything just falls apart. The story can't afford to allow us to think of all these implications, it has to preserve a sense of the toys' proper place in life, doing what they're supposed to do and asking nothing in return.

    And I'm not sure the story is just about growing up--it is, of course, but I think the more apt theme is parents allowing their children to grow up. The toys do go through some maturing--see Woody and Buzz's jealous sniping in the first movie--but in the end, yes, they are already adults. They are watching Andy grow up, and learning to let go.

    And while they do not appear especially aged/ragged/marked-up, their fragility and ability to be broken had already been played up in the last two movies quite a bit (Buzz loses an arm, Woody's arm gets ripped), and Andy was established as a kid who takes care of his toys and fixes them when they break.

    Anyone who starts making analogies for Lotso's dictatorship to real-world crimes is just being stupid--you got that right. The animators were going for "prison escape drama" with references to everything from The Great Escape to A Man Escaped, not "metaphors for the horrors of the 20th century."

    I thought the danger of the dump worked on a couple of levels. First off, it's a dump, so it just reinforces the themes of irrelevance and forgotten-ness and coming end that have been going the whole movie. Second, on a story level it really deepens our sense of the characters and how much we care about them--it puts them in a real life-or-death situation instead of just life-with-preschoolers humorous situation, and we (I) become deeply aware of how much we don't want them to die. The scene where they all clasp hands also suggests to me a very profound sense of acceptance and friendship--we care about them and they care about each other. Faced with all this, they determine to die well, demonstrating the most important virtues of toys yet again--a willingness to accept their fate with grace and love towards all. Peace and quiet strength in the face of doom. I'm not sure how that's nihilistic.

    Plus, I thought the film was fun and funny from beginning to end.

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  12. Also, as to Pixar's meanness: In this film, I don't see it. Big Baby and Ken were both shown to change from bad guys to good guys. And Lotso was given an excellent origin for his evilness. But having him switch the machine off would have been too pat, I think. Sometimes when you're gone, you're really gone, and I don't think there's any real evidence for Lotso to have decency left. I guess I'm saying it would have been *more* predictable and groan-worthy for him to suddenly turn good. And I don't think teaching children that sometimes there is real evil is a bad thing, I think it's necessary.

    On the other hand, I do think there are far too many unreformed bad guys coming to violent ends in American children's films. I know your model for great children's animation is My Neighbor Totoro, and I agree in wishing there were more films like that masterpiece. (Did you notice the Totoro doll in TS3?) I think, for the most part, Pixar has avoided being too mean about this, though. The only three Pixar villains to actually die are, I think, Hopper in A Bug's Life, Syndrome in The Incredibles, and Muntz in Up. Hopper totally deserved it, and Syndrome was a bit shocking but not out of character with the rest of the movie (he had killed a bunch of superheroes, though I would have been fine with him being imprisoned). In the other films, I think the villain is generally treated pretty humanely--In Ratatouille, the mean chef practically wins, in most of the others the villain is left in a situation he considers torture but really isn't life-threatening. I don't think Cars really has a villain. And Finding Nemo's villain is Darla, a kid of that movie's target audience--so there's actually a pretty good lesson in there about not being a brat and killing your pets.

    So Up is really the worst offender here--and on Up I completely agree with you. The first 15 minutes or so are wonderful, beautiful, and seem to be opening up on a film filled with wonder and imagination. And then Kevin shows up. And I don't hate Kevin as a character, but immediately the interaction and relationship becomes one we've seen before. And then they land on the plateau, and there are several funny and clever touches, but everything just becomes so predictable and stupid: we have to save the exotic animal because the kid likes it! And why is Muntz a villain? He wants to catch an exotic bird and show it to the world to prove he's not crazy! How is this an evil thing to do? And then things get really dangerous and violent, and Muntz ends up dying amidst action-movie cliches. The movie has so much promise, but then it becomes ordinary, cliched, silly, and yes, mean-spirited. But other than Up, I don't see the meanness of Pixar in general.

    Oh, and as for The Brave Little Toaster: It's low budget animation is kinda lousy, but it does have certain charms and it was a clear influence on Toy Story. But I find toys a far more powerful image of childhood, and longing, and obsolescence, and practically everything else over a toaster, a radio, a vacuum cleaner, and an electric blanket. And if you think TS3 freaks ids out for no reason, then prepare yourself, because TBLT has moments of insane freakiness for no apparent reason. It started out at Disney, and it's clearly trying to be a Disney film, complete with lame musical numbers, but it also has this really dark and depressing stuff grafted on to it. This willingness to go dark could have been interesting and original, but it isn't done well and its themes just aren't explored with any nuance or much artistry. Ultimately, I think it's not a very good film.

    sorry to go on so long.

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  13. Stephen,

    "Everything just falls apart. The story can't afford to allow us to think of all these implications, it has to preserve a sense of the toys' proper place in life, doing what they're supposed to do and asking nothing in return."

    I understand what you mean but for me all the questions it would raise (and you raised) are exciting things not to scared of. They wouldn't be dark or troubling for children because they would be worked through. I find it troubling (stuck going from owner to owner forever) as it is(1)

    The toys are adults in the sense that they care for Andy with an unconditional yet detached way (they can't truly communicate with him). In all other senses they are like children or pets. It is an interesting thought to see the owners as children the toys adopt but I think it makes more sense the other way.

    I accept what you say about physical and emotional damage being seen in the previous films that needn't be quite so prominent here. The film does need to stand on its own too, though.

    "Second, on a story level it really deepens our sense of the characters and how much we care about them"

    For me it should deepen the relationships between themselves (then we would care about them more) and, more importantly, change their attitudes and outlooks going forward. I don't think it deepens their friendship (though it reminds us of its depth) and it certainly doesn't affect how they deal with Andy. They accept their new lot and their new owner but the decisions (to go with Andy or not) are taken out of their hands.

    "Faced with all this, they determine to die well, demonstrating the most important virtues of toys yet again--a willingness to accept their fate with grace and love towards all. Peace and quiet strength in the face of doom. I'm not sure how that's nihilistic."

    That's a good point. That is the one way in which the dark pit shades the characters and the story (rather than just being a fire that engulfs).

    "Plus, I thought the film was fun and funny from beginning to end."

    I can't argue there. It was my opinion.

    "And Lotso was given an excellent origin for his evilness. But having him switch the machine off would have been too pat, I think. Sometimes when you're gone, you're really gone, and I don't think there's any real evidence for Lotso to have decency left."

    The meanness comes stronger when he is tied to the front of the truck for eternity. His feigning to turn off the machine I suppose is more standard in its teasing vindictiveness. The former comes from the writers, the latter from a place of convention and reality.

    "And I don't think teaching children that sometimes there is real evil is a bad thing, I think it's necessary."

    I see what you mean, and fine people do evil things. I don't think it is damaging, though, to show a world in which evil can be overcome and not just by destroying it. I think optimism (and moral idealism, if you will) is the best way to go for young people before the world teaches them definites and nuances.

    I did notice the Totoro doll(!)

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  14. "Hopper totally deserved it..."

    This is where we come to the issue of the disparities between story and reality. I can see how the structures and moralities of a story can be different from how we would react in real life (e.g.we would find it hard to get behind The Bride in Kill Bill if she were doing it in real life). But stories react to real life and children are influenced by everything they see (so are adults in fact). He may have deserved it 'story-style' but what do we gain from seeing it? Joy at the death? Relief? That's a little unsettling as a place to put children's hearts and minds, no matter what he did (cf celebrations at Bin Laden's death).

    I like what you say on Up. It does seem to fall apart.

    "And if you think TS3 freaks ids out for no reason, then prepare yourself, because TBLT has moments of insane freakiness for no apparent reason."

    Haha! Maybe I was a little harsh on Toy story 3 because I know how many people see it.

    "...sorry to go on so long."

    Thanks very much for the comments, Stephen.

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  15. Re: Toaster, I hear what you're saying in theory but my response to the film is quite different (and I do remember liking it as a kid, so I dont think it's just an adult thing). First of all, I like the fact that the objects are typically thought of with any sentimental value - to me this makes the situation simultaneously more poignant (the objects seem even more discarded, washed-up, and rejected because they're not supposed to do anything other than serve their utilitarian purpose; and the lack of "magic" also connects them more concretely with people, I think, that's a point I'd have to get into more) and amusing (because, let's face it, the idea of a kid loving his toaster and vaccuum cleaner is so zany, and seemingly unself-consciously so - it's played straight - that it has to bring a smile to one's face).

    Ultimatley I don't think the film is about lost childhood or innocence like the Toy Story films are, I think it's more about the prospect of death rather than growing up and becoming old and useless rather than mature and . Maybe the real connection then is with Up? Interesting thought, that never occurred to me until I typed it right now.

    I think some of the musical numbers are great at least in concept (tunewise they didn't stick with me) - the one in which all the 80s gadgets sing and intimidate the old-fashioned toaster & his pals is a great spoof of consumerism and the scene in which the cars all moan their way to their death perfectly sums up the movie and its themes. As for the darkness, I'm not sure how Stephen would interpret that (he said he hasn't seen it in a while) but I think kids' movies should be kind of dark and freaky - I remember getting scared very easily as a kid but also kind of wanting to.

    Ultimately, maybe I just like a movie that has the gall to make a toaster its anthropomorphic hero but I think the movie has other things to recommend in it as well.

    -Joel (aka MovieMan0283)

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