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.*
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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.
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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.