Pixar 43: ‘Toy Story 4’ (Spoilers)

Like many people I was a bit anxious when I heard the announcement of Toy Story 4. How could Pixar bring another entry into their treasured franchise after Toy Story 3 ended in such a satisfying way? It seemed like an impossible task but the Pixar folks have always said they only do sequels if they have a story, so I trusted them to get it right! Today I am happy to tell you my trust was not in vain. Toy Story 4 is another wonderful addition to our team of toys and a fitting conclusion to our best friend Woody’s story.

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It’s impossible to talk about Toy Story 4 without discussing the trajectory of the previous 3 films. In Toy Story we have a confident Woody who learns to be a friend to the new and different Buzz. He begins the story as a good leader but as many leaders are, he’s also self-interested and prone to jealousy and deep insecurities. It is only through becoming friends with Buzz that Woody learns to let go of his pride and serve others.

Then we get to Toy Story 2 where Woody learns to think of Andy, and his commitment to letting Andy play with him as long as he wants. It’s his mission and calling and it is more important than being worshiped in a Tokyo museum. In Toy Story 3 the team has struggled and become a family and that deep and abiding bond gets them through the prison that is the daycare center.

So what about Toy Story 4? What is left to learn? Well, to answer that question we have to think about the nature of toys in this universe. As far as I can tell their sentience is eternal. They have no bodily fluids so arms can be removed, they can be reassembled into new toys without any reduction to their sentience. This leads us to the question of how can Pixar retire the toys if they can’t be killed?

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We could leave Woody to be played with by Bonnie but doesn’t that lead to the same cycle over and over again? Is that a happy ending for our friends? There has to be a way for them to progress or what once gave them joy (playing with a child) will become miserable. I think the people at Pixar realized this and that Toy Story 3 could not be the actual ending for these characters because as happy as it was for Bonnie it wasn’t really a happy ending for Woody.

So, that’s where we get to Toy Story 4. As an old cowboy doll Woody is not a favorite toy of Bonnie. She is kind to her toys but prefers other toys like playing with Jessie. One day she goes to kindergarten and makes a toy out of trash she calls Forky. Creating her own toy seems to give her comfort during the scary time of a new school and she loves Forky dearly. Woody sees this and decides to watch over Forky and make sure it learns how to be a toy for Bonnie (a thing it rejects as it isn’t used to being sentient). Basically Woody becomes Forky’s father, and like a baby rejects things that are good for it, so does Forky.

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Woody decides that taking care of Forky is his new role in the bedroom. He even says at one point that ‘it’s all I have left’. He knows his playing days are minimal and this is the most important thing he can do to help Bonnie. He even jumps out of a moving car window in order to help save Forky. (This is quite different than his response in Toy Story. He would have been happy to see Buzz in the trash back then).

Eventually Forky and Woody end up in an antique store in a small town where to their surprise they run into an old friend Bo Peep. She had been given away by Molly (Andy’s sister) years before and to Woody’s surprise she has figured out a whole new way to live. She’s strong, confident and happy with an almost pirate-like existence. She still gets to be played with at the park but as she says ‘I am not lost’. Every day she determines her destiny and how she is going to contribute to the world.

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At first Woody is shocked by this and has difficulty understanding her way of living. But as the mechanics of the plot go forward he starts to see how independent Bo is which is very attractive and eye-opening. Most of the shenanigans with Gabby Gabby and Duke Caboom are fun in their own right but more importantly they are opportunities for Woody’s room-based view of the world to expand.

That’s not to say these events aren’t amusing because they are absolutely hilarious. Duck and Bunny in particular create some of the funniest sequences in the history of the Toy Story franchise. There are also some decent scares from the ventriloquist dummies named Benson and a lot of beautifully animated action while saving Forky. I also appreciated that Gabbby Gabby wasn’t a surprise villain like we’ve gotten so often from Disney lately. Her story was more of a surprise hero, which was really sweet in the end.

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But all that fun isn’t going to be enough if Woody is back in the closet at Bonnie’s rarely being played with. That’s no way to end our hero’s story! Just as the toys became a family in Toy Story 3, they, led by Buzz, understand that part of being a family is letting our loved ones follow their dreams. We send our children off to college or on a mission knowing our world’s are never going to be the same but we know it is what is best for them. We send them on their way with a hope and a prayer that they will be ok but we also let them know that everything at home will ‘be ok’. Such is the case with Woody and Buzz.

‘Bonnie will be ok’ Buzz tells Woody. In other words ‘go and have your adventure. Everything at home will be ok. We love you’. So off Woody goes and Buzz and friends stay behind to make sure they keep their promise to Woody. It’s no surprise the toys learn to listen to their inner voice throughout the story because goodbyes are hard (I just had one with my Grandma’s funeral this weekend) and it is only through a lot of practice do we have the spiritual strength to help our loved ones go down their path no matter how badly we will miss them.

A perfect ending to a story that started with our friend only thinking of himself. Well done Pixar. Well done.

A+

smile worthy

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Did the Right Film Win? 2010 Animated Oscars

Hi guys!  The next year is up in my review of the animated Oscars.  We are at 2010 and this is the first year where I really think the academy got it wrong with the Tangled snub.

I think Tangled was the best animated film of 2010 for a lot of reasons.  First, it looks beautiful and I saw it in 3D and scenes like the lanterns was breathtaking.  I also love Rapunzel because she isn’t weak like an Aurora but she’s also not a cliched warrior woman.  She has pieces of both inside her.  I think Flynn is a great character and I LOVE Mother Gothel.  I also like the music unlike some people.

Anyway I think they got it wrong but that’s what they did.  Here are my thoughts on the 3 nominees.

The Illusionist is by the Sylvain Chomet who directed The Triplets of Belleville.  It is from a screenplay by the French actor, director, mime Jacques Tati.  It basically tells the story of a magician who is old fashioned and can’t get a good gig.

He meets a girl who is in awe at his tricks.  He buys her presents because her adulation feels so good.  The animation is beautiful but I didn’t respond to the film.  I never felt like I got into the heart of the magician.  It kept me at a distance which made the tragic story less compelling.

The next nominee is How to Train Your Dragon which is one of my favorite Dreamworks films.  I really like the character of Hiccup and find the story of his bonding with Toothless to be very engaging.  I have a few little complaints with the Jay Baruchel vocals, the treatment of the Astrid character and some of the design of the dragons but they are minor.  It also has a lovely message about having the courage to see things in a totally new way and from a new perspective.

I just wrote about Toy Story 3 so I won’t repeat myself too much.  It’s a beautifully animated, thrilling prison escape movie.  The villain is menacing and the ending is pitch perfect for the Andy part of the series.

In my opinion the right film won of those 3 nominees.  What would you pick?

Pixar Review 27: Toy Story 3

toy story3-8I’ve struggled in writing my review for Toy Story 3 because my nieces hate it.  It is a film that gets very intense, too intense for my nieces and I didn’t know how much to take that into account.  I had the same struggle with my Pinocchio review, which in my defense was only the 2nd review I had ever written but at the time I said:

Pinocchio is visually gorgeous with good, if heavy-handed moral teachings.  It can be scary for kids and has a grim overall feel.  I appreciate it but I can’t give it my highest rating because of how I know it affected me as a child.

So I gave Pinocchio a B+ and I’ve gone back and forth on it ever since.  In many ways the issue is the same with Toy Story 3.  How much does a child’s opinion count in reviewing an animated film?  We know that animation isn’t just for children but in the same breath if they don’t like it isn’t that a problem?  I don’t know.  I honestly can’t decide.  What do you think?

Anyway, in the end I can only review a movie based on what I think of it.  At least with the Pinocchio review I was taking into account only what I thought of it as a child not other children.  I don’t have that luxury with Toy Story 3.  But I didn’t let anyone else’s opinions affect any of my other reviews so why should my nieces feelings be any different.  I’m just going to tell you what I think. So here goes.

I love Toy Story 3!  I mean this was me after watching it yesterday!

And yet I was also laughing and enjoying the tense moments so it isn’t just a cryfest.  It may just be the best 3rd installment in a franchise ever.  Return of the King, Indiana Jones and Last Crusade may be better but that’s all I can think of.  Can you?

TOY STORY 3 (L-R) Bullseye, Mr. Potato Head, Mrs. Potato Head, Jessie, Hamm, Barbie, Woody, Rex, Slinky Dog, Buzz Lightyear,  Aliens   ©Disney/Pixar.  All Rights Reserved.

Anyway, in this film we are 11 years after the events of Toy story 2 and just as you might expect Andy has grown up and is off to college.

In the opening scenes they lay out two key themes for the rest of the movie:

1. Andy’s Toys are a family and while they’ve lost some they stick together as best as they can.

2. That Andy will play with them one more time.

But both seem like an impossibility because Andy wants to take Woody to college with him and the rest are accidentally sent to a daycare center called Sunnyside as a donation by Andy’s Mom.

toy story3-4At first the daycare seems like a pretty great setup for the toys.  They will get played with again after 10 years in dust and that seems pretty great.  They are also welcomed by the leader of Sunnyside, a bear named Lots-O (for Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear) voiced by Ned Beatty.

toy story3-7Unfortunately all is not sunny at the daycare and the next section of the movie turns into a prison escape story but it never gets serious for too long.  Most of the humor comes from Buzz who gets put on his Spanish setting (so funny!).

And Michael Keaton is also hilarious as the Ken doll who falls instantly in love with Barbie and is very concerned with his wardrobe.

There is also humor from a little girl named Bonnie’s toys who fancy themselves a kind of theater group.   We also learn from these toys the true story about Lots-O and how he came to run Sunnyside like a jail.

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Directed by Lee Unkrich he is not afraid to push the boundaries of our expectations.  Most people assume characters in a movie like this are not going to die but boy do they come close in the famous (or infamous depending on how you look at it) incinerator scene.  It is such a bold scene:

I still can’t believe they cut it that close but it is incredibly gripping if way too intense for my nieces! I completely get their response because I also feel tense watching it.  How can you not?

With the prison escape done we get the end of the movie which is Andy’s chance to say goodbye to his childhood and for the toys, especially Woody, to say goodbye to him.  Pixar is so great at these type of emotional, life changing moments and this is one of the best.

Some may say it is unrealistic for a college student to play with his toys one last time but I don’t think it is.  Maybe in a previous era it might have been but this is the era of adults trick-or-treating and dressing up for comicon.  This is the era of grown men collecting Funko dolls and displaying them proudly.

I’m not the most nostalgic person in the world but even I have dolls displayed proudly in my room and I’m 34 years old. If I had to give them up I would cry because my Grandma gave them to me.  There’s no reason to assume Andy would be any less attached to these toys.

But even if you set that reality aside saying goodbye to the toys is symbolic of Andy saying goodbye to his childhood and I think he knows that.  In many ways it is kind of like the end of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh when Christopher tells Pooh that he can’t do nothing any more even though it is what he loves most of all.

Plus, in this final scenes we get the fulfillment of the 2 promises made at the beginning of the film creating a nice sense of closure to the film. Just as we were promised Andy plays with the toys one more time and they all stay together because they are a family.  Love that.

I think we all have those moments in life where we put away childhood and become a grown up.  It’s like the scripture says:

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things”

That is the ending of Toy Story 3 and it is an emotion almost anyone can relate and respond too.  In a way you could call it the great necessary evil of life.  Despite what Peter Pan wants we all must eventually grow up.

It practically goes without saying the animation is stunning- bright and colorful, with a clarity and realism to all the characters I haven’t seen in Pixar till this film.  Also the voice work is top notch with all our familiar characters and new voice actors such as Keaton, Beatty, Whoopi Goldberg, Timothy Dalton, Bonnie Hunt and Jeff Garlin.  Everyone involved in Toy Story 3 did an amazing job.

Thankfully we have Pixar to keep making films for adults and some children who aren’t too terrified!  They help keep some of the magic alive within all of us and Toy Story 3 has magic in spades.  I loved watching it again and if I ever have kids maybe I will just fast forward the incinerator scene so they can enjoy it too. 🙂

Overall Grade- A+

And for the record I have faith they have a good idea for Toy Story 4 and it will be good.  It is not going to be a continuation of the Andy storyline but exist solely in the world of the toys, a romance I’ve been told.  John Lasseter is directing 4 so sign me up!

Top 13 Disney Scares

Halloween is coming so it seems only appropriate that we talk about some Disney scares! This is not limited to the canon although there are a few movies with scares I have not seen or have not seen in a while, so this is by no means definitive.   It is also not necessarily the scariest movie just scenes.  Make sure to read my piece on Darkness in Disney to see where I draw the line on good scares and too much for kids (and me. I’m a wimp!).

Some of these are more funny scary than terrifying scary if you know what I mean.

13. Bear- Fox and the Hound- I have an animal phobia so the look of this bear is enough to give me the creeps!

bear

12.  Night on Bald Mountain- Fantasia- I mean it’s the devil and his minions with power and fury.  Not terrifying in a jump scare kind of way but in a ‘better repent now’ way…

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11. Snow White Forest Scene- Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs– Snow White holds up extremely well including this scene when she is spooked in the forest.  I think most of us can relate to that feeling of being watched and that the trees may stretch out and grab you!

snow white scared

10. Headless Horseman-  Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad- The story of Ichabod is the perfect ghost story for kids.   It’s dark and scary but not too scary.  Enough to make them feel excited and giggle but not give nightmares.  I couldn’t find a great clip but look at the face of the horse.  That should tell you something!

horseThis imagery with the pumpkin and the horse with the red eyes.  That’s pretty scary stuff!

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9. Crazy Donald-  Fun and Fancy Free-  Crazy Donald is Disney’s version of The Shining.  I mean he goes completely insane, axe wielding and all.  Best part of Fun and Fancy Free by a long shot.

tumblr_lmp8mwNWNI1qfuepw Get this duck some food!

8. Mob Song- Beauty and the Beast- Think the delusions of crowds and mass hysteria is most terrifying thing of all than Mob Song from Beauty and the Beast is the scare for you!  The thing that makes this song particularly scary is the way it escalates and it actually feels like there is little hope for our friends.  How can they defeat the entire town? It is also scary because Gaston has reached full madness.  He couldn’t get what he wanted and pride made him snap.  That is a very human villain.

mob song

7. Syndrome- Incredibles- One of the most human villains in all of Disney and that’s what makes him so scary.  I mean he has the whole family captured and nobody knows where they are.  He’s bitter and resentful but clearly smart.  The voice performance is chilling.   He even tries to take the baby at the end!

Syndrome_Close_Up

6. Kidnapping- Great Mouse Detective-  If this scene were with people instead of mice it might be too much for me.  It is really scary and certainly starts the film off with a bang.

5. Remains of the Day- Corpse Bride-

(Found out this is not a Disney!  Oh well.  It’s still scary!)

This is more funny than scary but it  is a great song and ghost story.  I love the  brilliant animation.  If you listen to the tale  it is pretty grim stuff. ‘At the end of the day we are all remains of the day!’ Kids will probably laugh but be a little scared too. I love it!

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4. Incinerator Scene- Toy Story 3-  This is a scene that is not scary in the traditional sense like Remains of the Day or the Headless Horseman.  This is scary because it really feels like they are all going to die.  My nieces were all very upset by it.   I mean they get awfully close to that incinerator!

3. Heffalumps and Woozles- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh- I had to pick either Pink Elephants on Parade or Heffalumps and Woozles  because they are very similar.  I went with the latter because it is aimed at smaller children which makes it bolder and scarier. Also I think the song is scarier in the lyrics and way it is sung.  Pink Elephants on Parade is more trippy than scary (same with Alice in Wonderland).  Plus, creepy toys are always effective in scary movies!

2. Boogie Man’s Song- Nightmare before Christmas- a gambling burlap bag of bugs gambles on whether to kill Santa. Yes, I think that makes the list!

1. Pleasure Island- Pinocchio.   Was there any doubt?  This scene is nuts! Pinocchio is a morality tale designed to teach children sin is bad and the wicked are punished.  And boy does it teach it effectively.  I remember as a kid being terrified of the kids turning into donkey scene.  They were bad kids but couldn’t you send them to reform school?  I mean how many donkeys do these salt mines need?

donkeysAs an adult the most terrifying thing about Pleasure Island is the kids stay donkeys!  There is no redemption or forgiveness to the kids.  That’s it.  They are done! And the Coachman is never punished.  Pinocchio escapes and we assume the Coachman continues to rake in the cash. Yikes!

This is a bad clip but it’s the only one I could find with the scene.

13. Honorable Mention- If I was doing live action I would include Return to Oz on the list even though I hate it . It’s too scary, dark and grim.  Not a fan but can’t deny it is very scary Disney!  (I’m also a Wizard of Oz purist.  I love the original and hated, hated, hated, hated every other version that has been made)