Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pixar Perfection

This is the list of feature films that Pixar had released before this year:
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • A Bug's Life (1998)
  • Toy Story 2 (1999)
  • Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  • Finding Nemo (2003)
  • The Incredibles (2004)
  • Cars (2006)
  • Ratatouille (2007)
  • WALL-E (2008)
  • Up (2009)

I've seen all but A Bug's Life. All of them range from good (Toy Story 2, Cars) to all-time great (WALL-E). The first 15 minutes of Up are simply tremendous, but the movie gets a little more childish after that. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are both fantastic, but lack that art factor that keep them from being in that all-time category. So, WALL-E remains at the top and no other Pixar movie really belongs in the same breath.

Until this weekend.

When I first saw that they were making a third Toy Story movie, fifteen years after the first one, no less, I laughed. Hollywood has gotten so sequel crazy. Almost all of the big movies this year are sequels or remakes of some sort. Because of this lack of originality, box office numbers are awful. So Disney and Pixar are tacking on a third movie that had a pretty good, but not great, sequel. Can't be worthy. I should have had more faith.

Toy Story 3 uses the length of time between films to advance the time in its world. Andy, the boy who owns the toys, is getting ready to leave for college and has to clean his room. His mother makes him decide whether he wants to take the toys with him to college, put them in his attic, or throw them away. With this decision hanging over them, the toys have to come to grips once and for all with the fact that they are now useless to their owner, who will never play with them again. What follows brings on an onslaught of nostalgic soul-searching in the audience that leads to an ending that had every adult in the theater sobbing. I'm not really exaggerating -- my wife next to me was crying, I was crying, the guy in front of me was crying.

I'm not painting a fair picture of the movie because it's also really, really funny. As Pixar is often wont to do, they manage to mix physical humor that makes everyone laugh with sexual innuendo and other adult humor. There are a few parts that are seriously laugh-out-loud funny, including a sequence that deals with an evil cymbal-clashing monkey. There is even some adventure and a pretty exciting climax. Add in a few easy pop culture references and a few hidden ones (there's a great Return of the Jedi homage) and you end up with a movie that is very enjoyable to watch.

But the true greatness in a film is when it makes you feel something. WALL-E pulled the heartstrings with the space flight sequence and it made you think about our culture of consumerism. Toy Story 3 is great because it makes you examine how your life has changed since childhood and what that means to parents and children alike. One of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes that has contributed to the movie's 99% (!) rating (100% among the Top Critics) said that he was glad that there was the usual blooper reel during the credits because it meant he didn't have to immediately walk out into the lobby, wiping the tears out of his eyes. Toy Story 3 makes even critics feel something deeply. It's not art to the level of WALL-E, so it's not quite as great, but great it is.

It's been a rough year for movies. As far as I can remember, there are only three movies I've seen this year that I even really liked (I'm not counting Clash of the Titans which was purely through irony). My number three is Iron Man 2. Number two is Hot Tub Time Machine. Toy Story 3 is number one by miles upon light years. I don't think sequels, in general, are a pretty bad idea. Unless Pixar makes them, because Pixar just doesn't do bad.

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