Toy Story 3
By Cole Smithey
Once you get past paying the inflated price for a "3-D" movie where the 3-D feels like an afterthought and nothing floats in front of your eyes (as in quality 3-D films), the story that unfolds is more sad than joyful. It's also mean spirited in a divisive way, pitting toys against toys in a war-like mentality not far removed from the captured prisoners in an occupied country.
The inappropriately cruel and drawn-out climax sequence is reminiscent of the holocaust and thus too intense for younger children who will be lured into the "G-rated" film. The filmmakers go so far into Michael Bay territory that I shudder to think what the mind of a five-year-old would make of such contrived suspense tactics as are employed here. When the toys travel down a long conveyer belt toward a fiery death, the filmmakers milk the sequence for all the suspense and panic they can muster. This might be right for a Transformers movie, but it's all wrong for "Toy Story."
"Toy Story 3" is about neglect, betrayal, and the planned obsolescence of plastic toys that wind up as toxic landfill. So it's got all that going for it.
As the story goes, human boy Andy (voiced by John Morris) is off to college, and must finally put away childish things--something most boys do before junior high. Talk about arrested development--this kid isn't getting any dates.
Andy chooses to take his favorite toy, cowboy Woody (well voiced by Tom Hanks) with him to college, and pack away in his attic the rest of the gang, including Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), and his Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris). Andy's careless mom--whose sense of parental responsibility is nonexistent—"accidentally" tosses out the trash bag filled with Woody's pals on the curb. Soon the gang of outcast toys--abandonment is a distressing theme smuggled into the story--are being abused by little kids at "Sunnyside" preschool, where they end up.
It becomes cowpoke Woody's mission to rescue his fellow toys, who are being kept as prisoners by the school's head honcho stuffed animal "Lots-o'-Huggin" Bear (Ned Beatty). Beatty's wolf-in-sheep's-clothing character poses the film's most egregious rendering of a two-faced character who charms the new toys before showing his determinedly dastardly intentions against Buzz Lightyear after buttering up the sometimes heroic astronaut.
The story devolves into a prison escape plot where the toys break character as much as they get their plastic hearts damaged by the cruelty of their treatment by the preschool's other toys. If you're looking for an instructional movie on how to make your kids act like they're bi-polar, here you go.
Buzz Lightyear spends part of the story as a "sir-yes-sir" product of brainwashed military training while Barbie's new heartthrob Ken turns out to be one duplicitous little eunuch. Again, we have yet another two-faced character who represents all the trustworthy qualities of a Wall Street banker. Wrongheaded and overly mature for young audiences, "Toy Story 3" sends some pretty dark messages for little ones to digest. And when I say dark, I mean bordering on sociopathic. A PG-rating would have been more appropriate for a film that definitely sends all the wrong messages, even to kids over ten.
Looking at all three “Toy Story” films reveals a trajectory similar to that of the “Spider-Man” franchise. In both series, the second movie is unmistakably the strongest of both trilogies. The first “Toy Story” couches Woody as a jealous and somewhat vengeful cowboy. Characters are repeatedly told to “shut up.” Most questionable is the film’s ground-rule-breaking climax where the toys cross an established line of not being animated in the presence of humans. When the toys confront Sid--the evil child antagonist--it taints the climax with a flawed deus ex machina device that reveals a weakness in the writing. As well, the thematically overstated closing line, “We toys can see everything, so play nice,” hits too much on the nose.
By the time they made “Toy Story 2,” returning writer Peter Docter (writer on “WALL-E” and “UP”) and director John Lasseter (“A Bug’s Life”) had honed the tone of the franchise to a finely pitched spectrum of musically nuanced and visually lush design to support its nostalgic underpinnings. Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” theme is thoughtfully repeated. Jesse’s song about being “lonely and forgotten” arrives in an autumnal setting that’s emotionally evocative as it is gorgeous. The filmmakers hit it rich with Woody’s discovery of his “Woody’s Roundup” television series origins. The introduction of cowgirl Jesse, trusty horse “Bullseye,” and unreliable prospector Stinky Pete gives Woody an historical context and familial connection that sophisticatedly anchors his character. Even the outtake scenes that play over the ending credits reinforce a reliability of narrative purpose that is sublimely humorous and comforting.
An obvious split between the accomplished progression of first two movies and the inferior final installment is the departure of the enormously talented writer Peter Docter from the franchise. John Lasseter’s demotion from director of TS1 and TS2 in favor of writer/director Lee Unkrich (co-director on “Finding Nemo”) undoubtedly contributes to the lack of cohesion. Gone is the meticulous attention to color, and the glorious expressiveness of cultural touchstones expressed in “Toy Story 2.”
Rated G. 103 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
See my article on 3D— Breaking the Window: What You're Not Supposed to Know About 3D
How "Toy Story 3" Blew Up in My Face
By Cole Smithey
Last Friday I did what I usually do on Friday mornings, I walked down to my local cineplex to pay to see a movie (in this case "Toy Story 3"). After lunch I wrote up my capsule review. At the end I gave it a "C+" grade. Between B- and C+ is where I draw the line amid good and bad to fit to Rottentomatoes' "fresh" or "rotten" rating system.
I posted the review on my website (ColeSmithey.com), and on Rottentomatoes. By Saturday morning I had a message from a website asking for a phone interview and the kind of hate-mail and death threats you'd expect for Joran van Der Sloot. The world wide web had turned into a tsunami of negative attention directed at myself and Armond White, the 146th and 147th critics to weigh in on "Toy Story 3." The problem was that I had dared to tarnish the film's sternly guarded "100%" rating on Rottentomatoes, which would have given the trilogy three perfect scores. White redoubled the insult by posting his even less favorable review 15-miniutes later.
Sites like Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and AOL's PopEater were quick to lump White's and my reviews together as critics who "hated 'Toy Story 3'." How my C+ grade equaled "hate" mattered not for the frothing complicit public protectors of Disney•Pixar. As with everything else in the American media there's no room for nuance in today's court of public opinion; it's all or nothing. My review was being sniffed at like it was a box of Cracker Jacks with no prize. Although I'd made fifteen points about specific problems I had with the film, some readers seemed unable to grasp a single criticism. Did they even bother to read it, I wondered. The answer was painfully clear. All they needed to know was that I didn't like a movie that most of them hadn't even seen.
There isn't a film I can think of that doesn't have detractors, so why should "Toy Story 3" be any different? Yet the media's framing of me as an attention-hungry film critic, gaming the system at the expense of a movie franchise's place in history is a stretch editors were happy to make. On the face of it, you could surmise that hate-mongers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have effectively opened the floodgates for a pervasive conscience-free mob mentality to breed like gangrene. Now it's on the menu at Time Magazine and The Wall Street Journal.
As the Staff Film Editor for "Kidsville News!," where I deal exclusively with G and PG-rated movies, I'm aware of ratings for children's films. I have young nieces and nephews with responsible parents who are sensitive to what their kids see. I could not in good conscience endorse "Toy Story 3" as a G-rated film that meets their criteria. As well, Hollywood is currently changing the game on what audiences can expect from a "3-D" movie so they can charge higher ticket prices for an inferior product. "Toy Story 3" is a poster child of this unsavory business practice.
By definition, being a critic means it is my job to "critique." I wrote my "Toy Story 3" review just as I write any piece of criticism--with honesty, sincerity, and a singular mission to express my ideas as clearly and briefly as possible. For the media and members of the public to feign indignation over such a trivial issue as an aggregate website's critical rating of a movie, as an excuse to unify groupthink at the cost of all independent thought, is a bellwether of where America is at these days. It's not a safe place for kids, but don't say it out loud.
A friend sent a link to AOL's PopEater (http://www.popeater.com/2010/06/20/armond-white-toy-story-3-reviews/#comments) where the lead line is 'Toy Story' Narrowly Misses Perfect Trilogy Marks (Thank's, Armond White)
Besides not knowing how to use quotation marks, AOL's writer misses the fact that White's review came after mine. PopEater's unreliable writer Zach Dionne (who, by the way, is not accredited to contribute film reviews on Rottentomatoes) takes issue with my primary "news outlet" as ColeSmithey.com. Dionne says, "No word on who he [Cole Smithey] actually, y'know, is, or why he sits alongside the likes of Ebert, A.O. Scott, Peter Travers and Owen Gleiberman."
If lazy Zach had done his research, a visit to the Online Film Critics Society site would have told him that I write for ColeSmithey.com, Film Slate Magazine, Lansing City Pulse, Monterey County Weekly, Shalom Life, appear opposite Rex Reed in Vegas Seven, and am the staff film editor for the largest circulation kid's print publication in the country, Kidsville News!--which might have some bearing on why kid's movies are of particular interest to me, Cole Smithey.
A Google search would have informed Zack Dionne about my extensive career as a 13-year veteran film critic who has written for over 60 national and international print publications, and half as many web sites as a paid columnist. A little tour of Rottentomatoes would have informed Zach about the 1400 reviews I have posted on Rottentomatoes against White's paltry "405."
But the real kicker came when I tried to comment in the PopEater comments section. I wrote a reply, which the PopEater screeners refused to post--it's not an automatic system, as their instructions lead you to believe. Unlike Time Magazine's site, PopEater doesn't much care for any response from the authors they slag. Forget about the fact that they stole from Time Magazine to create a similar article, at least they reference Time in the piece. Critics are professional arbiters of taste. Don't be shocked when we do our job. It's what we do; unlike AOL's PopEater and Zack Dionne.
In an e-mail, Ray from Georgia says:
I had never heard of you before today, but I went to "Rotten Tomatoes" to see if anybody had seen the same "Toy Story 3" that I did. My wife and I were shocked at the dark and scary elements that should have bothered children (and their parents), but most reviewers blithely went on as if they couldn't see the "neglect," "betrayal," threat of a "fiery death," "suspense and panic" that you accurately identified.
Though there were moments of joy and humor, and although some conflict is necessary for a story to exist, I felt that "Toy Story 3" went way past what would be appropriate for children and, for that matter, for sensitive adults. "Stinky Pete" was at least a nonexistent villain--an antagonist dreamed up from within the Pixarverse, but "Lotso Hugs" was too similar to the teddy bear(s) most of us loved at some point in our lives, so having him become a duplicitous, sadistic traitor was just over the top emotionally.
I am truly sorry you were subjected to hate mail for daring to note that the emperor was wearing jackboots and carrying a riding crop, but I want to thank you for taking a stand on principle and for commenting on the movie that was, not the movie everybody else said it was."
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