Saturday, May 14, 2011


My initial impression of Toy Story 3 (2010, directed by Lee Unkrich) was that it was more melancholy and not as funny as the previous entries in the series. I formed that impression about halfway through the movie. The second half of the movie dropped the bottom out of my assumptions. It still wasn't as "funny" as the other movies, but it turned into a film suffused by such existential terror that it is perhaps more frightening than anything in any recent horror movies. Oh, it's still a comedy. Sure. But the category, "Pixar comedy," has become an expansive one, loaded with every other kind of emotion to which human beings are prone, whether it's the intense romantic longing of WALL-E or the sadness and loss of Up or the sensory delight of Ratatouille.

Their palette has darkened considerably in Toy Story 3.

The story here recognizes the march of time. With Andy on the verge of going to college, the toys have been relegated to a trunk, soon to be stored in the attic. As Andy packs to leave, he accidentally leaves the toys in a bag that his mother mistakes for trash. Woody, who Andy chooses to take to college with him, tries to convince the others that it was a mistake, but the others are adamant and hitch a ride to the donation box for the local day care. Sunnyside Day Care at first seems like a perfect landing spot for the toys: it promises play every day with an ever-renewing cast of children. The toys at the daycare are organized by a stuffed bear named Lotso, who gives them the tour, showing them a veritable paradise. There's something sinister at Sunnyside, too, and it reveals itself to the toys in due time when they are consigned to the destructive ministrations of the youngest children and kept in a virtual prison by the cabal of toys who rule Sunnyside. Lotso, it seems, is an affable exterior that hides a monster. Woody, for his part, stages a rescue mission, and the last part of the film is an extended escape sequence that would do many a prison movie proud.

Toy Story 3 expands on the existential questions asked by the second movie: what does it mean to be a toy? What does the world hold for a toy that is no longer loved? Where is the meaning in a life without a purpose? It also does yet another riff on the epistemology of identity for Buzz Lightyear, and his story once again resembles a Philip K. Dick story. Buzz gets the film's biggest laughs when his operational mode gets reset to Spanish and he turns into a latin lothario with designs on Jesse. We get a minor variation of this with the introduction of Ken, who strives to exist on his own terms as something other than "an accessory." These scenes provide the movie with its best comedy beats. But all of that is secondary to what the movie does at the end. Like Up, Toy Story 3 is ultimately a meditation on meaning at the end of life, and it conceptualizes death in very concrete ways.

Pixar movies have traditionally ended on an elaborate action sequence. These sequences are usually marvels of invention, whether it's the door chase in Monsters Inc. or the final battle with Syndrome's robot in The Incredibles. Toy Story 3 follows this formula, but its final action sequence is different (they've saved the "fun" action sequence for the beginning of the movie this time out). The set up finds the toys making their escape from Sunnyside Daycare through the trash shoot. They ultimately wind up at the city landfill where they are swept into the processing machineries. Lotso has been swept along with them, and when he's in a position to save them, he abandons them to their fate. Losto has, by this time, been shown to be a ball of self-loathing and bitterness. At the end of the line is the furnace, and the scene where the toys realize that they have no hope of escaping it, when they join hands together to face the inevitability of death is a moment of psychic trauma the equal of the death of Bambi's mother. This is NOT the deranged invention of the door chase. This is a descent into the maelstrom. My partner turned to me during this sequence and said: "If this is how Toy Story ends, then this SUCKS!" She was clearly upset, and she's an adult. I can't imagine how a child would deal with this scene. But, my god, it's magnificent.

At some point during the last part of Toy Story 3, I realized that I was watching the ending of Jim Thompson's The Getaway. Not the movie versions, mind you, but the book. The movie versions could never deal with the vision of hell at the end of that book, but damned if Toy Story 3 doesn't understand it implicitly. At the end of that book, Doc McCoy and his wife end up hiding under a mountain of manure on their descent into hell, an event mitigated by the fact that Thompson's characters usually deserve everything they get. Toy Story 3 kinda sorta reenacts this scenario, as our heroes wind up stranded at the bottom of a mountain of trash on their way into the pit. In some ways, it's a more bitter pill than The Getaway, because the toys in Toy Story 3 are innocents. They don't deserve what they are apparently getting. Of course, this isn't the end. I can't imagine the outrage from parents nationwide had they followed through on all of this, but by the time they resolved things with the requisite bittersweet ending--an ending that on its own opened the waterworks for me--the image had already been indelibly imprinted on my brain.

I chose not to see Toy Story 3 in a theater. It's the first Pixar movie I've seen only on home video. The culprit is 3-D. It gives me a headache. It's not worth the upcharge. It kept me away from the theater for Toy Story 3. I know that it was shown in 2-D in some theaters, but it wasn't shown that way within 120 miles of where I live. I'm heartsick that I missed it now, but I'm not sorry I passed on the 3-D. This would have been completely transcendent on a big screen. Sigh.


Anonymous said...

My esposa and I sat with mouths agape at the trash sequence in the theatre (2D thank you) and turned to each other and said "The kids aren't ready for this yet" and it turns out we were wrong because the kids had no real problem with it, which was kind of weird, too. I guess after enough viewings of both iterations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they've become immune to something...don't know quite what.

As for he very ending, I haven't cried that much at a movie since I had to pull my motorcycle over after I had left the theatre at the ending of Eastwood's Unforgiven...I think I may be the only person who bawled because of that movie.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Yeah. Kids are durable. What they find terrifying is not what adults necessarily find terrifying.

I sat through the end credits in a kind of shell shocked daze at the end of Unforgiven. I knew that I had seen something genuinely great, but it was a "great" that punched me in the stomach. During the last ten minutes or so, from the point where Will Munny walks into the saloon until the credits, I had a problem breathing because the full weight of the movie was sitting on my chest. I've never had another experience at the movies like that.

Mykal said...

Dr. Morbius: I just watched this streamed on Netflix. It's all you say it is. The baby with the lazy eye scared the pants off me. The descent into the maw of fire was very moving, even epic. I think that intense, pseudo ending set me up perfectly, making me grateful for the following sugar.

Did anyone else feel ridiculously contented when Mrs. Potato Head found her missing eye?