Toy Story 3

11 years after the second film, Pixar gives us Toy Story 3. Although, as my Dad commented, the premise wears a little thin the third time around, it’s still quite a good film, thoughtful and clever, and also exciting and touching.

Some spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it:

The toys’ owner, Andy, is now 17 and about to head to college. Most of his toys have been given away or thrown out over the years, and he hasn’t played with the remainder in quite some time. Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) is trying to encourage everyone to deal with the eventuality of being stored in the attic, hopefully to someday be brought back to play with Andy’s own kids. But a series of mishaps result in the gang being donated to Sunnyvale Day Care. Encouraged by the warm welcome by the leader of the day care’s toys, Lots-o-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty), the toys elect to remain, while Woody heads back to go to college with Andy.

But all is not well at the day care, as Lotso is a tyrant who puts the new toys in the preschoolers’ room, where they endure rough play from kids not old enough to appreciate them. Lotso and his people neutralize Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and imprison the others. Woody, meanwhile, gets lost and ends up in the home of a little girl, where he learns from her toys of the horrors of the day care, and resolves to rescue his friends and get back to Andy.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that the film’s writers had a starting point (“What happens to the toys when their owner grows up?”) and a happy ending point in mind for the film, but bridging the gap between the two is where the adventure comes in: What are some other fates that may befall the toys? We see plenty of possibilities along the way.

This film belongs almost entirely to Woody, even more than the first two: Woody is a little more mature than he was before, and he bears the weight of his collapsing world on his shoulders, but he’s still naive and not-too-bright, so although he always tries to do the right thing and “will never give up on you”, it can take him a while to see what the right thing really is. In a sense, the whole story is a mechanism to show Woody that there are better options for himself and his friends, and that although the road is hard, the journey is worthwhile.

It’s a much darker film than the first two, as from the outset it’s tinged with nostalgia and a sense of loss: If the first two films were about throwing our heroes out of their comfort zone, here their comfort zone is years behind them and they’re adrift, trying to grasp any sense of hope they can find. The story reaches its emotional bottom shortly before the big climax, and it’s as grim a scene as in any Pixar film I can recall, as the toys think they’ve reached the end of the line at a garbage dump. But when they get out of it, I laughed out loud at the audacity of it.

It’s an artfully-constructed film, with various details strewn around, Hitchcock-style, which are used later as plot devices. And for some of the supporting characters it’s a story of redemption – or lack thereof – as always revolving around the theme of sticking with your friends through good times a bad. Turning your back on your friends always leads to bad things. (On the one hand you’d think the toys wouldn’t have to keep learning this. On the other hand, it’s not like humans take these keep these lessons close to their hearts when faced with differences of opinion, either.) But for the toys who remember this lesson (sooner or later), it’s happy endings all around.

The ending is a true tear-jerker, but it should touch the heart of anyone who’s closed the book on a period of their life and looked back on it sadly.

The animation is, as always, stellar. They’ve especially got the movements of the humans down pat (I wonder how much of it is rotoscoped and how much is modeled from whole cloth).

Though not quite on the level of Up, it’s still a strong an satisfying film. Yes, it suffers a bit from being repetitive of the earlier films (the same lessons learned, the same get-back-to-Andy storyline), but the Pixar crew manage to make another interesting variation on the theme, and it’s all just so darned heartwarming that how can you really object to it?


Yesterday I was thankful for having a fun, low-key Thanksgiving at the house of our friends Chad & Camille, with Susan and Subrata also attending. Plus we had one toddler (S&S’s), two infants (C&C’s), and two dogs (also C&C’s), and the obligatory plenty of food, supplied by all of us. (Well, Debbi took care of our contributions.)

In the evening Debbi and I watched Up on DVD. I liked it quite a bit when I saw it in the theatre, and I liked it just as much this time. The more I think about it, the more I think it is Pixar’s best film. Its ridiculous premises are inventive and audacious, but more importantly they’re surprising; the film heads in unexpected directions and yet holds together. It works because it sticks to its emotional center, that of Carl finding meaning in his life after leaving everything he’s known behind him. It’s certainly the most emotionally resonant film in Pixar’s catalog.

Today I’m thankful for my cat Jefferson, who went to the vet for dental surgery, and who fortunately had ‘only’ an infected tooth that needed to be pulled, and nothing worse (like a tumor). He’s home now, a little groggy, has been wolfing down soft cat food and drinking lots of water, blinking at the bright lights, and slowly getting back to normal. The other cats were perplexed by his absence, and have been mostly leaving him alone since he returned.

But for a 15-year-old cat, he’s doing pretty good. He’ll be on soft food and taking antibiotics for a while, but hopefully a good night’s sleep will get his personality back to normal.

And then I’ll really be thankful.

“Up” Date

One last, more personal, note about Up. Spoilers ahead in case you haven’t seen the film.

The opening montage of the film in which we see how the disappointment’s in Carl’s life shaping him into a cranky old man really resonated with me. My thought while watching it was that its message is not to put off following your dreams, not to let the little day-to-day things get in the way. My temperament is that of a steady, day-to-day guy, and from time to time I worry that I’m spending all my time just going through the motions and not doing anything truly memorable, the sort of thing I’ll look back on when I’m old and think, “That’s something I’m glad I did.” I also haven’t had any great ambitious goals in life like Carl and Ellie did to go to Paradise Falls.

The later montage shows Carl reading through Ellie’s adventure scrapbook, filled with pictures of their life together. In contrast to the first montage, this one shows how all of the little things, in aggregation, makes up a fulfilling and memorable life. Rather than resonating deeply with me like the first sequence, this one gave me something to think about. I’m still thinking.

The evening of the day we saw the film, I asked Debbi if she’s happy with me even though I don’t go on any adventures with her. She said that we do go on adventures: We went to Hawaii, to Las Vegas, and to Portland, and Disneyland. And I know I’ll remember that Hawaii trip for years to come.

It still seems like it falls short of fulfilling some lifelong dream, though.


Pixar’s new film Up is terrific.

The journey of retiree and widower Carl Fredrickson (voice of Ed Asner) to South America in a house lifted by thousands of balloons is an utterly ridiculous premise, and it gets sillier as it goes on, with a nonogenarian explorer, dragging the floating house several miles atop a butte, talking dogs and fantastic animals. And yet the whole thing works on its own terms, as it’s really about Carl’s personal journey to find a way to keep going after the death of his wife.

There are two tear-jerker montages which certainly do their jobs: The much-heralded opening sequence in which we see how Carl became the grumpy old man he is, and a later sequence in which he reminisces on his life from a different perspective. In a way they show how two views of a person’s life can say very different things about that person: In Carl’s case, either that he should have seized the day before it was too late, or that he had a wonderful life that he shouldn’t regret. But the story is about Carl making his way from here to there in his head.

But it’s the exuberant characters that carry the day: Russell, the young wilderness explorer (Jordan Nagai) who stows away on Carl’s house, and Dug (Bob Peterson), the talking dog who tags along when he meets the pair, eventually turning on his master, the adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Dug is especially hilarious, and quotable (“Hi there!”).

If the film has a weak spot, it’s the obsessive villainy of Muntz, who makes an effective heavy, but not a terribly convincing one: While his motivation (chasing after a fantastic animal for decades and not letting anything get in his way) makes a certain gut-level sense, I wondered why he didn’t try to “catch more flies with honey”, as they say. But given how much suspension of disbelief the story asks for just by its nature, a little bit of character motivation is easy enough to overlook.

I think Up is the film that The Incredibles wanted to be: This film’s epiphany works better than that one does, and it feels more true to itself, not tied up in trying to be a superhero film (with a poor understanding of superheroes), a family drama, and a spy adventure all in one. Up is is much more focused on its main character and story, and the whole thing works much better.

Is it Pixar’s best film? It’s hard to pick just one, since they’ve made so many good ones. WALL-E may have been more inventive, but it stumbled in the premise of its second half. Up is more consistent and overall works better. I’ve watched WALL-E, Cars and Finding Nemo many times now; I hope Up holds up as well in repeat viewings.



I never went to see Ratatouille, since the premise didn’t appeal to me and something about Brad Bird’s approach to story construction puts me off (The Incredibles could have been a great film, but it’s rather an unfocused hodge-podge), but tonight we resumed riding the Pixar bandwagon by going to see WALL-E.

It’s a cute film. It does a terrific job of portraying the eponymous character’s unending life as nearly the last living thing on a used-up, abandoned Earth. Without dialogue, but with plenty of body language, WALL-E conveys his begrudging acceptance of his workaday life, with his hopes and dreams behind it. And when the more advanced robot Eve shows up on a mission, his realization that his dreams could come true is quite poignant. From there the film turns into a madcap adventure as we find out what happened to humanity, and WALL-E and Eve try to complete Eve’s mission and figure each other out (not necessarily in that order.

The film is at its best when it’s dealing with the robots – and there are plenty of them – but at its worst when dealing with the humans, and what they’ve become after 700 years. Okay, it’s a cautionary tale about out consumer culture, but it has all the finesse of a sledgehammer to the forehead, with people having become obese and slothful, entirely reliant on stimuli from the computer network. It’s not like it’s particularly new, either; except for the fat angle, it’s pretty much the same premise as that of Adventure Comics #379, which was published around the time I was born. I think if they’d come up with a more nuanced explanation for humanity’s absence it would have been a much better film.

Still, the robots are at the front and center, and that makes it a fun film despite its flaws. WALL-E is a terrific-looking creation, expressive and sympathetic, and Eve isn’t far behind him. And the film is touching and funny and exciting as WALL-E and Eve try to get together. The animation is stunning, of course, and the music is very distinctive compared to earlier Pixar films. Overall, a fun film.

Topping it off – actually leading it off – is the short before the film, “Presto”, which is absolutely hilarious, as good as any old Warner Bros cartoon. Sometimes it seems like the shorts are better than the features!