Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Film Review | Toy Story 3 (2010)

Combining both the rule of diminishing returns and the inverse relationship between the length of time you leave between installments in a film franchise and the quality of the newest entry, Toy Story 3 should be awful. Add to that the fact that both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were beloved modern classics of animation by the time of Toy Story 3's release and it could have become the most derided third film of a trilogy since The Godfather Part III. Surely if any studio could manage to steer clear of this minefield of cinematic failure, it was Pixar? Simply put: yes, it surely was.

Toy Story 3, like Toy Story 2 before it, retains many of the successful elements seen since the series' first installment. All the key voice cast members return sounding as fresh as ever (aside from Jim Varney as Slinky Dog due to his death in 2000, but whose role is ably and respectfully filled by Blake Clark). A wealth of new talent join them, each as perfectly fit to their animated counterparts as the franchise veterans. Ned Beatty as Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear deftly creates the series' most finely crafted and performed antagonist, with Michael Keaton providing strong and often laugh-out-loud support as Ken. Additional supporting roles are filled by seasoned performers including Whoopi Goldberg, Bonnie Hunt and Timothy Dalton (as one of the series' most brilliant minor characters, Mr. Pricklepants: a lederhosen-attired plush hedgehog with a propensity for Shakespearean performance), which lends the film an essence of cinematic eminence.

After piloting the first two installments, John Lasseter receives credits as story writer and executive producer here whilst handing over control to Lee Unkrich in his directorial debut. Unkrich proves to be a worthy successor staying true to the style and passion Lasseter infused into his films; Toy Story 3 takes in a great deal of cinematic heritage including classic prison escape thrillers and an opening sequence which trumps both of the previous films' magnificent efforts. Unkrich blends the best elements from the franchise's past whilst keeping his film feeling original and contemporary. Even a handful of sequences clearly designed to take advantage of the film's 3D release in cinemas work just as well with one dimension removed. Pixar's ability to make the design of their characters, initially restricted by 1995 animation technology, still feel as crisp and appealing as ever is easy to overlook but simply cannot be understated.

Whilst Toy Story 3 at its core tells the story of a rescue mission once again, it manages more ably than its predecessor to bring an entirely original slant to proceedings. But perhaps most impressive of all is Unkrich's ability to make Toy Story 3 the most emotional entry of the trilogy. An early scene involving the toys effecting an elaborate ploy to get the attention of the now young adult Andy (John Morris) using his mobile phone is heartbreaking, and the film's final sequence will have you blubbering like a baby, especially if you've been with Woody and co. since the beginning. Elsewhere the film touches on areas that lesser animated films wouldn't dare go near, with existential questions surrounding death and the reasons for being etched within some of the film's most moving sequences.

Toy Story 3 therefore rounds off Pixar's flawless trifecta, one of the greatest film trilogies ever accomplished. All three deserve recognition in history as masterworks of animation and cinema, and their influence will undoubtedly resonate through the years and decades of film far into the future. Or as Buzz Lightyear would say more succinctly: "to infinity and beyond".


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