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‘Toy Story’ reveals playroom’s dark side

POSTED: June 17, 2010 4:30 a.m.

You’ve all heard the phrase, "It’s lonely at the top." Well, Pixar no longer needs to worry about that.

Pixar has made all your favorite animated movies over the past 15 years ("Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille"). They had released only one other sequel prior to this week, "Toy Story 2," which is an outstanding movie in its own right (even better than "Toy Story," I would argue).

Otherwise, though, Pixar was the studio that showed more class and creativity than most, striving to break new ground rather than playing it safe.

Sadly, those days are over. "Toy Story 3" is a completely unnecessary movie designed to cash in on a bankable property.

"Toy Story 2" brilliantly explored the heart of neglected toys and elaborated on the friendship theme established by the first movie. At the end of that sequel, Woody decides he’ll stick with Andy and his toy friends for as long as he possibly can. I believed him. But now he gets an entire, pointless movie to prove it.

Andy (John Morris) is heading off to college in "Toy Story 3." He hasn’t played with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) or the rest of the toys in years. In fact, Wheezy and all the other secondary toys have already been sold or donated.

A misunderstanding between Andy and his mom (Laurie Metcalf) puts the toys into a day care center, where a duplicitous Lotso Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty) rules over all toys like a Nazi prison camp commander.

The movie becomes a dark, often scary prison break movie. It not only adds nothing to the Toy Story legacy, it completely loses the innocence of the first two movies.

The villains in this movie are other toys. Sure, Stinky Pete caused some problems in "Toy Story 2," but he was a comic and even sympathetic villain (how’d you like to spend your whole life in a display box?).

"Toy Story 3" features extended sequences of toys behaving in vindictive, evil ways. A baby doll is Lotso’s lead henchman, displaying all the cold menace of a killer robot. Good luck explaining to young children why the cute bear and baby doll want to kill Woody and Buzz.

Woody and the gang are put in life-threatening peril several times. There is a real possibility in this movie that the toys we’ve loved for 15 years are going to be destroyed. Not lost or forgotten, but obliterated right before our eyes.

My 5-year-old saw the first two Toy Story movies in a theater and didn’t flinch. This installment sent him crawling into my lap. A friend’s 6-year-old reacted exactly the same way.

Adults may find this movie more enjoyable than their kids. It’s much more nostalgic than the first two movies, as Andy’s mom struggles with the emotions of sending him off to college. The movie essentially gives us a chance to say similar goodbyes to the toys.

Well, thanks but no thanks. Soiling the memory of characters we love is not worth the few funny but completely predictable moments between Ken (Michael Keaton) and Barbie (Jodi Benson).

After the wildly over-rated "Up" and now this, one has to wonder if Pixar has run out of steam. They are slated to release "Cars 2" next summer — a sequel to what was by far their weakest movie until this one came along. They are also apparently developing a sequel to "Monsters, Inc."

Maybe both those sequels will be good, but this is hardly what we expect from the studio that showed the awesome audacity of making "WALL-E," in which our heroes are non-verbal robots.

On the other hand, the short that precedes this movie, called "Day & Night," is conceptually and graphically the most brilliant Pixar short to date. Here’s hoping the director of that short, Teddy Newton, heralds a brighter future for a studio suddenly in desperate need of new ideas.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.


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