Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Toy Story 3: Spooky, funny and full of life

The lovely Miss Wendy and I recently spent a delightful evening with pals Susan and John watching Toy Story 3. John’s man cave it turns out is really a mega-entertainment center, the perfect place to watch Sheriff Woody and his animated friends.

This time around the folks at Pixar and Walt Disney Studios have yet again managed to produce a film that offers up a few lessons about life in a fun and totally entertaining fashion. The story has Andy, that would be Woody’s, ah, human, heading off to college and all the toys anxious about their future.

Everything seems light and bright and moving in the right direction when Andy decides to take Woody along with him to college and save all the other toys from the trash bin by storing them in the family’s attic. Of course all doesn’t go according to plan and the toys end up in daycare hell!

Sunnyside, at least the toy side of things, is run by Lots-o’-huggin’ bear. His fuzzy heart was broken years earlier by his, ah, human kid and now he’s oh-so spooky in a cuddly sort of way.

“Lotso” and his band of thugs turn life into the proverbial living hell for Andy’s toys until Woody figures out how to save the day. My guess is most of you have already seen the film and know how the heroics play out. I’ve got only one word for the rest of you. Netflix!

A thousand years ago when I was a kid, animated films were aimed directly at youngsters. They were mostly sweet little cartoons with just enough dark energy to keep things interesting. So there was the witch in Snow White and the hunters in Bambi, Captain Hook in Peter Pan and Cruella de Vil in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The villains were mostly hidden away in the shadows, laughably evil and bigger than life.

The bad guys in Toy Story 3 are much spookier, often funny but also creepy. Their spooky mojo isn’t linked just to things that go bump in the dark and fill our sleep with nightmares. Okay, there is a clown and a lumbering big baby with a drooping eyelid. But the characters are also saddled with a boatload of human frailties and psychological scars, acting out their fears and causing problems. That’s scary stuff.

I imagine youngsters find the movie fun. There’s lots of color and plenty of noise, enough sensory stimulation to keep them focused and entertained. And I guess they can follow the plot, at least on the surface.

But Toy Story 3, and much of the animated work coming out of Hollywood these days, is being produced for a much larger and older audience. It’s not just the high-tech animation that’s pure genius and pulling in crowds.

Like all good films, Toy Story 3 offers up a pitch-perfect script. So it’s the words, I’d argue, that ultimately hold together the fine work of the film’s actors, animators, producers and directors. Those words, interestingly, focus on the human condition – aging and change; friendship and love.

Films are all about the suspension of disbelief and once upon a time that just didn’t happen for me when watching cartoons. Woody and his talented team of creators have changed all that. Now, apparently, all I need is a dark room, bag of popcorn and something special from the folks at Disney.

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