Toy Story (2010, dir. Lee Unkrich)
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Jodi Benson, Estelle Harris
In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori coined the term “The Uncanny Valley”. Basically, it refers to the point when a robot or human facsimile (CG animated character) resemble real humans so closely it evokes a sense of revulsion in the viewer. CG animation walks that very fine line, and in the case of Robert Zemeckis’ animated works (The Polar Express, Beowulf) it reaches the revolting atmosphere. This is where Pixar gets it right, in that it never tries to make its humans look like exact copies of humans. Instead, the real humanity in the film is infused in the inanimate who have a larger ability to express emotion than ever before. For me, Toy Story 3 marks a clear point in history where, in the right hands, CG animation is a clear challenger to live action cinema.
Andy is eighteen and about to head off to college. The time to cast out his toys, which have been long ignored anyway, has come. All but Woody end up in a trash bag destined for the attic, while the cowboy ends up in Andy college-bound boxes. With the fear of being separated from his pals, Woody makes a daring escape and goes to save Buzz and company who have accidentally been put out for the trash. They all avoid the landfill but end up in Sunnyside Daycare, which is ruled over by Losto Hugs Bear, a 80s relic. They also meet a host of other toys, more generic than specific products and engage in what is essential a prison break movie, with some very strong themes about aging and obsolescence threaded throughout.
The situation the toys are placed in is one that speaks across generations. The children, whom most assume the film is squarely marketed at, will see their own feelings of powerlessness reflected in the plight of the toys. When faced with the circumstances of simply moving to a new town all the way to dealing with the divorce of parents, children are without any say in where they go. The same theme is applied to children transitioning into adulthood, like Andy, who are pressured by society to abandon toys and play. The issues Andy is grappling with reflect a lot of those who were children when the first Toy Story came out. Bumping up another generation, the themes of a child leaving home are very palpable and those wistful feelings as days when your child was little and playful. Laurie Metcalf and the animators behind her character deliver a very short, but beautiful performance in the moment where she enters Andy’s now empty bedroom. Finally, through Lotso we have the resentment of elderly and those who are left behind. Lotso has taken the moment he realized he was no longer wanted by his owner, and has allowed those feelings to become anger and rage, which is merely a form of hurt.
Pixar is a company that makes perfect films (I refuse to acknowledge Cars). They are writing scripts that are light years (no pun intended) richer and more complex than the majority of those shopped around Hollywood. The production staff also has a strong sense of creating rich worlds, they fill their universes with so many details that we want to inhabit them just a little bit longer. The Toy Story trilogy now stands a perfect trilogy, with themes that develop and mature just like Andy. The technical side of the animation has also evolved in a similar fashion. While buzz of Toy Story 4 has recently hit after the current release’s box office success, but I hope the Pixar crew treads carefully in adding on to an already complete masterpiece.