Eugene Weekly : Movies : 6.24.10


Imaginary Domains
Toy Story 3 gives a lengthy, fond farewell
by Molly Templeton

TOY STORY 3: Directed by Lee Unkrich. Screenplay by Michael Arndt. Story by Unkrich, John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. Music, Randy Newman. Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen,  Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris and Jodi Benson. Disney/Pixar, 2010. G. 103 minutes.

It’s been 11 years since Toy Story 2, and in Toy Story 3, time has passed for the toys — Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang of aliens, dinos and pigs — much as it has for us. Their kid, Andy (John Morris), is days from leaving for college. The trepidation and excitement of impending change suffuse the film. But the mundane must be dealt with first: Andy’s mom (Laurie Metcalf) has issued instructions about his room. Everything goes with him, gets stored in the attic or gets tossed out with the trash. The toys have one more option: They can be donated to a nearby daycare.

The familiar playthings deserve a different resolution, and it’s this route that Toy Story 3 takes its time finding. An exhilarating, creative train heist sequence opens the film, neatly reintroducing the main characters and simultaneously serving as a glorious reminder that animation can be just as epic and engrossing as live-action films (something at which the recent How to Train Your Dragon excelled). But the film quickly gets bogged down in a drawn-out debate among the toys: Is it better to go to the attic, to be remembered fondly, or to be donated to the daycare, never to see Andy again but to be played with by new kids? Clearly, either is better than being taken out with the trash.

When the toys wind up at Sunnyside, a sweet-seeming daycare center, they’re shown the ropes by Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty) — Lotso for short — a deep-voiced fellow whose strawberry-scented exterior conceals a stony heart. Lotso runs the toy rooms with a plush fist. Among his minions are the eerie Big Baby, a worn, lifelike doll that recalls the baby-headed spider from the first film, and Ken (Michael Keaton), whose love for fashion is eclipsed only by his instant attraction to Barbie (Jodi Benson), who has joined with Andy’s toys after being disposed of by his little sister. 

The conflict at Sunnyside provides some of the film’s most clever moments; Mr. Potato Head’s transformation into a Dali-esque Mr. Tortilla Head is a highlight. Andy’s toys twice temporarily lose a leader: Woody, in a desperate bid to get back to Andy, is swept off to the home of Bonnie (Emily Hahn), a kid with appealing toys of her own (including a lederhosen-wearing hedgehog and a silent Totoro). Buzz is returned to his factory settings, becoming an authoritarian cog in Lotso’s machine — and a delicate reminder that though the toys are all mass-produced objects, they take on their own personalities in the hands of the kid to whom they belong. 

Buzz’s control panel proves a tripping point for the filmmakers. An attempt to turn Buzz back into himself transforms him into a Spanish-speaking spaceman — a temporarily delight that fizzles when it’s clear Spanish-speaking Buzz is a stereotype, a Latin lover and seductive dancer who swoons for cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack). It’s not the only moment at which Toy Story 3 gets uncomfortably friendly with cliché: The toys’ disdain for Ken’s fashionable side is compounded by a joke abut his tidy handwriting and his position as a “girls’ toy” — to some, apparently a terrible thing to be.

But not to everyone. Toy Story 3 gently weaves shy, imaginative Bonnie into the story; her toys are key to understanding Lotso, and her part in the film’s graceful finale is both delightful and bittersweet. With its focus on growing up and moving on, changing and being left behind, Toy Story 3 feels like a farewell. But it’s one that knows that the memory of who we were — inventive masters of our toys’ domain — is an unshakeable part of who we’ll be.