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Toy Stories - John C. Kirk

Jul. 24th, 2010

12:23 am - Toy Stories

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This week I've rewatched Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on DVD, then gone off to the cinema to watch Toy Story 3. They're all good films, and I've found that I now appreciate them more for the story than the humour. I've also been consistently impressed by the casting. I have some longer thoughts (particularly on the new film), but that involves giving away a lot of the plot, so don't read this until you've seen it!

As usual, the cinema showed a short film before the main film, but I was a bit disappointed. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't up to their usual standards. Looking at the other Pixar shorts, they each start with an idea and then push it as far as they possibly can, to explore everything that they can do with it. Presto (with the magic hats) is probably the best example of this. In this case, I don't think the idea they chose was particularly interesting, so there wasn't much to explore. Still, never mind; other people seemed to like it.

Toy Story

I think the thing that impressed me the most about this film was the world building. With Cars and Bolt, it took me about half an hour to get into the film because I kept thinking "Hang on, how does that work?" With Toy Story, the best example is the little green guys with three eyes: they're only in the film for a couple of minutes, but they have a whole religion worked out.

A few of the cast are fairly easy to recognise (the voices of Woody, Buzz, and Hamm). There are other voices that I didn't recognise, although I've seen the actors in other roles: Bo Peep was done by Annie Potts, who played Janine in Ghostbusters, and Rex was done by Wallace Shawn, who played Grand Nagus Zek in DS9. In Rex's case, I can hear the resemblance if I really pay close attention (once I know that it's the same actor), but it's not obvious; that's good, because it helps me to separate the two roles. By contrast, he also did the voice for the principal in A Goofy Movie, and after a minute or so I thought "Hang on, that's the Grand Nagus!"

Speaking of Bo Peep, that always struck me as an odd toy for a young boy to have. Apparently she and her sheep were actually part of a porcelain lamp, which was only there because Molly's crib was in the same bedroom, but I completely missed that when I watched the film.

Toy Story 2

The most important thing about this film is that it didn't fall into the "sequel-itis" trap. Disney don't have a great track record here: typically their sequels just involve rehashing the plot of the first film. When I saw the posters, I thought that they'd put Jessie into the role that Buzz had in the first film (new toy, other toys are jealous, etc.), but I'm impressed that they went in a new direction, while still keeping the basic themes/characters from the first film.

When I saw this in the cinema, I remember laughing so much in one particular bit (traffic cones) that I almost fell off my seat. It's still amusing, but it doesn't work quite so well on repeated viewings when I know what's going to happen. Still, I'm glad that I got the benefit of it the first time around. By contrast, the people around me were laughing during Jessie's song ("When somebody loved me"), on the basis that it was a parody, whereas I thought that it was quite sad/moving.

One benefit of rewatching the film is that I now know who the bad guy is (the Prospector), so I can look for clues in his earlier actions. It certainly caught me by surprise the first time I saw the film, and I think a lot of that is due to recognising the actor (the guy who played Frasier Crane), i.e. I'm used to thinking of him as a good person. Even now, though, I have to admit that he was genuinely helpful. In particular, I'm thinking about the scene were Jessie was having a panic attack, and he said (paraphrasing from memory): "Look at me! I promise you that you will get out of there." I said something similar during a (fake) SJA scenario involving a car crash, when I needed to reassure the casualty who was trapped inside the car. Later on, the Prospector asks Woody: "Will Andy take you to college? Or on his honeymoon?" Since that's a fairly big plot point in the third film, it now has extra resonance when I rewatch the second.

Toy Story 3

I watched this in 3D, but I didn't really notice any special effects. I'm sure they were there, but they were just subtle and understated. So, I don't think you'd be missing much if you watched it in 2D.

The film started with a "minds eye" version of one of Andy's games. As it went along, I was waiting for Buzz to turn up, and I was expecting him to do something similar to the first Superman film, i.e. fly down and lie across the gap in the track to get the train over the bridge. So, when the train plunged into the chasm, there was no real sense of danger; also, even if it had gone wrong, it was all just in Andy's imagination. A bit later, it looked as though most of the toys had wound up inside the rubbish van (in a bin liner), but again I wasn't really worried; aside from anything else, on a meta level I wouldn't expect the film to kill off most of the cast so near to the beginning.

One interesting issue that came up in this film was speech. I didn't really notice it in Toy Story 2, but Bullseye never talks: the dog and pig can, but the horse can't. It becomes a bit more obvious in this film, especially since the unicorn (in Molly's bedroom) could talk. I assume it's because the other toys were riding him around, i.e. he was in a subservient role, so it might seem a bit unfair if he was of equal intellect. Similarly, RC (the car) never spoke in the first film, although that's slightly different because he doesn't have a mouth (ditto for Etch). In this film, Big Baby didn't speak either, and that may be because it would just feel weird to have a baby talking like an adult; you're then moving into the realms of Look Who's Talking.

Speaking of the baby, there was one scene during the escape where Woody and the green guys are crouching "under the kerb" while the baby stands above looking down. That really reminded me of the scene with the Nazgul in Fellowship of the Ring, although it's not listed (yet) on IMDB, so that might just be me.

Regarding casting, I didn't recognise the voice of Lotso. The actor (Ned Beatty) has a ridiculously long CV, but I've only seen him in the first two Superman films: he played Otis (Lex Luthor's inept sidekick, and would-be founder of Otisberg). So, he's certainly not been typecast! I was also quite amused to see that Timothy Dalton did the voice of the hedgehog (the "classically trained actor" in Molly's room).

I didn't really laugh much during this film, although there were a few bits that made me smile. I think the funniest bit was when Barbie wore Ken's spacesuit, and almost got rumbled because she wore high heels underneath, but then the bookworm still assumed that it was Ken; nice misdirection there.

Coming up to the end of the film, there was the scene in the incinerator, where the toys have all run out of ideas. By contrast to the earlier "scenes of peril", this time I really believed that they were all going to die: they might be immortal (unaging), but fire would certainly destroy them.

I heard a theory a while back about fear and danger. The basic idea is that the more danger you're in (i.e. the greater risk of death), the more scared you are. However, if you know that you're about to die, with no hope of escape, then you're not afraid. I can vouch for this from my own experience (although obviously I was overreacting a bit). I also spoke to someone who stalled her car on a motorway: someone else hit the back, which spun her around broadside. She couldn't move the car, and there was traffic bearing down on her, so she was convinced that she was about to die and she wasn't afraid either. Fortunately, things worked out ok.

Anyway, coming back to the film, it made perfect sense to me that the toys would react the way they did: they accepted their fate, made peace with it, and took comfort in the fact that they were together at the end. I sat there thinking "This is a pretty bleak way to end the film", and I must admit that I was sniffling a bit (tears, runny nose).

This film was rated U, which apparently means that it's ok for everyone aged 4 and up, but my immediate reaction was that I wouldn't take a 4 year old to see it because it would upset them too much. However, I now think that it might be ok, since that scene was handled quite subtly. None of the toys came right out and said "We're all going to die!" That message was conveyed via meaningful looks and holding hands. Also, as an adult I'm aware of my own mortality, whereas young children tend to think that they're indestructible. So, I wonder whether the film is self-filtering: if you're mature enough to understand what's going on then you're ready to handle the grief. (Alternately, you may understand what's going on and not be bothered at all, in which case you have a heart of stone!)

Coming to the end credits, some other films have done fake outtakes (e.g. Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc), but they didn't do that here. I'm glad, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there's only so many of those that I can watch before the joke wears thin; that's why I eventually got bored with TV programs like It'll be alright on the night. Secondly, I needed something that was simple and cheerful to ease me out of the film, and going straight to a "behind the scenes" approach would be too abrupt.

As I say, all in all it was a very good film, and a satisfying end to the series.

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