Commentary 25 Jun 2010 06:19 am

Thoughts on TS3D

- Toy Story 3 is such a difficult film for me to write about that I am very inclined not to say much of anything more than the negative sentence I contributed last week in passing while commenting on Mike Barrier’s writing. However, negative I’ll be I feel it’s probably important, at least for my own ego, to write down my thoughts. I know most of you won’t agree with me, but that’s not really important to me. I just wanted to air my considered comments.

As such, I’ve decided to break those comments into two:

1.Things I liked about Toy Story 3.

    There’s a funny bit toward the front of the film, wherein Woody, the only toy not to be tied in a plastic bag waiting for the soon-approaching garbage truck, runs up and down several lawns in a frenzy trying to save his friends. The animation on the run is hilarious. Whoever animated it captured the lunacy of a marionette without strings running with arms and legs fluttering about in an absolute chaos.

    The 3D is excellently crafted. Unlike the Dreamworks approach to 3D there are no characters or objects being thrown at the audience in a cheap attempt to create a gasp or shock moment. This is no MONSTERS VS ALIENS where the audience has to keep ducking throughout. Toy Story sets up a comfortable 3D enviironment and casually invites you in. I enjoyed it and applaud the design of that element of the film.

    The voice work, as in most Pixar films, is excellent. Casting is fine, particularly Michael Keaton as the Ken doll. Tom Hanks certainly carries his character even when the animation doesn’t completely. Ned Beatty creates a very odd villain in a quietly voiced character with lots of venom but no loud shouting. It is rather sinister in the end.

2. Things I didn’t like about Toy Story 3.

    Pixar films have gotten into something of a formula, and that formula keeps heading closer to violent, action-adventure movies as opposed to the sensitive stories they brought us early on. This story is a Rube Goldberg contraption of a film. Patchwork and obvious in its construction, the film races from one locale to another back and forth trying to keep viewers on the edge of their seat throughout. The characters, for the most part, are always in danger, and the effort is to try to keep up with the twists and turns, especially of Woody, to follow things. As I said, this has become the pattern of recent Pixar films They spend considerable time setting up their characters and then throw them and us on a roller coaster ride trying to climax to an ending. In Wall-E, there’s was a wonderfully silent opening half hour of a movie before we were shuttled to outer space where characters raced from one end of the space ship to the other, inside and out, as the audience was dragged along. Up featured a wild chase around an island which brought the characters back, in a frenzy, to fight off financial villains in their own world. The action/adventure element The Incredibles was probably the most crucial to that film since it was a film about superheroes, and we knew going in that we’d be seeing violent chase-type action.

    However, Toy Story 3 is all chase from the opening to the close. Consequently, I never once cozied up to the characters as I had in the first film, and even the second. This film, to me, just features the characters and voices without giving us much character.

    Then, continuing with the story, we’re given a climax that is so violent that parents of young children will be bothered by the horrific moments of tension that their children will have to endure getting to the end. Threatening to incinerate all of the characters comes as something of a reality that is milked for all its soppiness. (Characters waiting to be trashed form a ring holding hands so we know how much they mean to each other, but more to make us endure a longer, slower death. I found it unconscionable of the film makers, who are – let’s face it – making a children’s film for all ages. This is one film I would have given a PG-13.

    I didn’t quite feel the animation was on par with Pixar’s best. The mix of quiet, sensitive movement with the popping from pose to pose style just doesn’t work for me, and I wish they would have chosen one style over another. Don’t get me wrong, technically the film is stunning, as you would expect it to be from this company, but the artistic choices weren’t always what I would have chosen.

    Randy Newman’s score rambles about a bit too much for me. His score for Toy Story 1 stood out as something different for an animated feature. In Toy Story 2, he introduced his Oscar-winning song and let that tune carry the picture in a very melodic way. The score to Toy Story 3 is all in short spurts of action music, which is obviously locked into the violently short scenes featured throughout the movie. I wish he had found a way to make this feel less like an action-adventure movie.

Actually, I have plenty more to say, but I think I should stop here. I didn’t have a great time at the movies watching this film. I wanted more from this magnificent studio. After their initial films, I was convinced that we’d be watching an animation company mature into something brilliant. If all they’re going to offer is an animated variant of the typical fare we’re offered from Jerry Bruckheimer, I’m not sure I see the point.

24 Responses to “Thoughts on TS3D”

  1. on 25 Jun 2010 at 7:25 am 1.Eric Noble said …

    I thought the film was just okay. Nothing spectacular. Like you, I didn’t feel like I got to know anybody in this film. Not even Lotso. I wasn’t satisfied by how they handled him. I just felt like they glossed over his character quickly with that bit with the clown, and they felt that was character development.

    Personally, my favorite bit in the film was towards the end, when Mr. Potato Head becomes Mr. Tortilla head. I thought that was great and hilarious.

  2. on 25 Jun 2010 at 9:29 am 2.Michael said …

    The tortilla scenes were funny, but that’s part of the problem with the film. Lots of clever bits, and they’re really clever, but they do nothing to reveal character or give us any depth.

  3. on 25 Jun 2010 at 10:08 am 3.Bill said …

    I too was somewhat disappointed in this film. I walked out at the end not really knowing why, but I think you nailed it. It was a Hollywood action film. I also didn’t like Mrs. Potato Head’s eye being able to see in the bedroom. That just seemed like a cheap way out. Great post

  4. on 25 Jun 2010 at 10:29 am 4.Richard said …

    “When She Loved Me,” the song from Toy Story 2, deserved, but did not win, the Oscar for “Best Song.”

    The film itself is outstanding. After seeing a mess like The Illusionist a week ago, it’s that much more impressive. Pixar has moved up and onward in the level of it’s storytelling, while most people expect the same-old same-old repetition–as evidenced by most of the comments here so far. I really appreciate that they’re broadening their scope.

    Great film. Can’t wait to see it again.

  5. on 25 Jun 2010 at 11:07 am 5.Dan Konieczka said …

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts about this, I agree with a bit of them but I do disagree with some.

    You stated: “…making a children’s film for all ages. This is one film I would have given a PG-13.”

    in a recent interview with Ed Catmull he clearly states that they’re not making movies for kids, “We do make movies that children can enjoy, but we also make movies that we can enjoy…we believe very strongly that children live in an adult world…”: , it’s about 2/3′s through the video….who makes a video player doesn’t have a time slider?!

    I personally like the changes in Pixar’s recent movies. They’re not afraid to bring up real life issues instead of just telling a story. Issues such as death, which has always been prominent in Disney movies, or losing a baby like in UP, or destroying/trashing the earth and getting lazy in Wall-E. These are important topics which they’re touching on and it’s important that they send a message as opposed to just having a meaningless ride like the action movies Toy Story 3 is being compared to.

  6. on 25 Jun 2010 at 11:18 am 6.Michael said …

    When you make a film about toys and following up the original Toy Story, you’re making a film for children. I don’t care what Ed Catmull has to say.

    Up and WALL-E and especially RATATOUILLE had larger themes. What’s the big theme in Toy Story 3; kids get tired of their toys?

  7. on 25 Jun 2010 at 3:32 pm 7.Anonymous said …

    I enjoyed TS3 a lot, but the entire TS story never quite sank in with me as much as Monsters Inc or Finding Nemo, because the story takes place with a group of toys that are actually moving in a realistic setup world. They are little haunted toys to me!

    From the start with TS1, Buzz Lightyear assumes he is a real space ranger, and a real deal. He even thinks he is riding on a spaceship at one part, riding with the belt in the Pizza Planet van and all but no human ever notices him. Now it also makes me wonder, if the toys are able to control themselves moving in front of the human presence and when not to, then why is it Buzz Lightyear, assuming he is a real deal, pretends to be a toy in front of Andy? that just never quite work out for me somehow.

    I thought the toys are suppose to lay low profile a lot, but when the scene in TS3 hits where they were doing night guards and with all that torchlight, camera surveillance and all, surely at some point the humans in their world are going to notice that. So the entire premise of Toys coming alive in a realistic human world was a tricky plot for me to buy into.

    And if Lotso hates the humans so much he wants to replace them, why doesn’t he plot against the humans already? I was assuming he could be a nice character somewhere in him that he still likes being played with, but they made him utterly evil and abandoned the other Toys into the incinerator. So that brought him to another level of ‘evil’ that I am not quite sure how to buy into and yet wants to be played by other kids.

    I’m not trying to be difficult to deal with when pointing out plot holes in Pixar’s stories, I am sure every movies have their plot holes but these are a little too big for me to let go the more I try to figure it out, but can’t.

  8. on 25 Jun 2010 at 8:17 pm 8.Michael said …

    Anonymous, everything you had to say was reasonable and understandable. I wish you would have had the courage to use your name for the comment.

  9. on 25 Jun 2010 at 10:54 pm 9.Mario NC said …

    All your thoughts about the film are quite interesting, Michael but I’m only gonna comment on two points:

    1. You mentioned that it feels like the Pixar movies are becoming much more violent and loud. I agree with you. I think is more or less a failure that Pixar has inherited from the Hollywood movies. Now it’s all about the environments, the over the top action sequences. Still, I started perceiving that from Wall-E. Like you mentioned, the last part of the film is basically a bunch of chase scenes in the Axiom. Up is mostly the same. I find this truly disappointing, because when I see the two Brad Bird movies is pretty obvious that there is a structure and a justification for those action sequences. There’s a good example in Ratatouille: when Remy tries to escape the kitchen (the whole scenes last for about 7 minutes) is just brilliant. Is exceptionally crafted the way that Remy moves from inside to the outside of the kitchen giving us an entire view of the room from his perspective. That scene is so complex that I’m pretty sure the team of Brad Bird made a model of the kitchen to pinpoint exactly the movement of the character along the storyboards.

    2. It’s hard to me to describe what I felt when I watches the film. The harsh reality is that I grow up with the Toy Story trilogy. I watched the first one when I was seven, the second one when I was 11 and the third when I am 21. So in a way I grow up at the same time that Andy so it naturally feels like the trilogy closes an entire period of time in our generation. Even though I clearly understand all the inherent flaws to Toy Story 3 (and I’m particularly aware why is in a way a average if not mediocre movie), I cannot denied that I got teary-eyed in the ending. I’ve never even realized that these movies about toys represent such an important part of my childhood. And I think this is a sentiment that a lot of people in his twenties and early thirties are going to share. I don’t think that someone in their forties (or fifties) or even a little child will relate in the same way. And in the same way, I think Pixar also concluded a part of their history as a studio.

  10. on 25 Jun 2010 at 11:16 pm 10.Mac said …

    I can’t say I agree entirely with the idea that Pixar movies are getting increasingly violent or too similar to action movies because I think from Toy Story 1 they have had elements of that. Just last night I put on the first movie and I was struck by how violent the scene under the Pizza Planet car is with Woody and Buzz going at it. I also noticed them really going for some squash and stretch extreme poses in that with Woody getting his head bonked and eyes bulging. And in the end of that movie we have the big car chase scene that takes the action up a notch. While I do agree it is not always appreciated to take this route in every movie (Up stands out to me as an example of a movie with great potential being brought way down by the second half which was full of blockbuster cliches), I think a movie like Ratatoullie stands out as being different from this mold. It is a much quieter piece and is one of my favorites. That said, I had a great time watching Toy Story 3 and Day & Night.

  11. on 26 Jun 2010 at 12:11 am 11.Tom said …

    You call Pixar a “mignificent studio” but it seems you only like 4 of their films; The original Toy Story, the Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up.

  12. on 26 Jun 2010 at 1:54 am 12.Patrick said …

    I feel bad, but I honestly have to agree with all of your points. I really miss the great character development of the first film, that is why I rank it so high in my all time favorites. I hope Pixar rekindles it’s great character work and doesn’t fall into a formula like so many feature companies do.

  13. on 26 Jun 2010 at 5:23 am 13.Anonymous said …

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for saying my posts are reasonable and understandable, but knowing the industry’s attitude about other people’s criticism, and being someone who is on a job hunt right now, I don’t feel so safe mentioning my name in public and criticizing a big studio like Pixar. I will never know who is out there and reading these comments and will take it negatively.

    I will remain as civil as I can even if I were to post anonymously in your blog.

  14. on 26 Jun 2010 at 8:54 am 14.Michael said …

    Tom, I didn’t say I liked those four films; I said there were elements I liked about them. I go out of my way to criticize the formula of UP.

    With all of them, including the original TOY STORY, I have small problems but always recognize that I am watching the state of the art where cgi animation is concerned. Technically, they are brilliant. I also infrequently find some well animated scenes, and for that I am grateful that the medium hasn’t completely died. With TS3, it felt like there was a slip in story and quality.

  15. on 26 Jun 2010 at 12:48 pm 15.Charles Brubaker said …

    I thought it was an okay film, personally. I can relate to what you mean about the incinerator scene. Being a Disney film, I knew that the characters were going to be saved at the last minute, but…wow, was it out of nowhere.

    That said, I loved the short that preceded it, Day & Night. Nice hand-drawn animation there, even if it got preachy near the end. I’m wondering on what you thought of the short.

    All in all, it was worth it just for the short alone.

  16. on 26 Jun 2010 at 3:45 pm 16.Daniel Caylor said …

    I thought it was a great film, and really enjoyed it. I grew up with this trilogy. The first one was a big deal for me for wanting to get into animation. The last one was the best way I think they could have ended it. I wouldn’t give it 98% like RT does, but I’d say at least 85%. I didn’t cry but I was kind of shocked at how ballzy the ending was, it is a toy movie after all. Props to the story guys for coming up with something you can engage in so much and feel like you’re a toy about to be burned up. There was some super hilarious stuff in there too. I couldn’t stop laughing through the whole tortilla. Me and some random stranger beside me went into fits. The monkey stuff as well. “You gotta get that monkey!” could not stop laughing. Lotso was an evil little bugger. I didn’t notice the lack of character development. I got sucked in personally, and just watched it like anyone else would. If I see it again, I’ll have a more critical eye, but I just wanted to be entertained on my birthday. I got that. The Incredibles remains my favorite Pixar film though. It’s really hard to top that.

  17. on 27 Jun 2010 at 6:50 am 17.Joe said …

    Just saw the movie today with my daughter. I enjoyed most of the film except for a few sappy bits. It did have that action adventure feel to it. But, haven’t most of Pixar’s movies had some adventure motif going on?

    Toy Story: An adventure in moving to Andy’s new home.
    Bugs Life: An adventure in getting those dang grasshoppers off our backs.
    Toy Story 2: An adventure in escaping the toy collector.
    Monsters Inc.: An adventure in getting a little girl back home.
    Finding Nemo: An adventure in getting a little fish back home.
    Cars: An adventure in finding what home really is.
    Ratatouille: An adventure in learning to be true to yourself.
    Wall-E: An adventure in self sacrifice.
    Up: An adventure about adventure.
    Toy Story 3: An adventure in getting kicked out of the house.

    TS3 was action packed and had this feeling of…ok, we’ve got to wrap this whole trilogy thing up. How do we do this and everything is right with the world at the end? At one point it felt so much like Mission Impossible, I wanted to start humming the theme song during the escape scenes. Ken and Mr. Potato Head stole the show for me. Much like Dug stole the show in “Up”.

    It was great seeing the characters again for the last time. Overall, a fun movie. One of their best? I’m not so sure. We’ve got two sequels and a princess fairy tale coming from Pixar. So we’ll see how thing go.

  18. on 27 Jun 2010 at 8:17 am 18.Michael said …

    Joe, what makes you think this is the end of the TOY STORY films? The next short from Pixar which will precede CARS 2 will be a TOY STORY short.

  19. on 27 Jun 2010 at 11:37 am 19.Pierre said …

    I liked Toy Story 3 quite a lot. Certainly much more than I liked most of their recent films. I thought the film had a better balance of comedy, drama and pathos.

    I’ve had a love/hate thing with Pixar as of late. I think most of their output, up to The Incredibles was just fantastic. From then on, many of their films felt more formulaic.

    I loved the first half of both Wall-E and Up, only to be let down by the second half. Both of these films had the potential to be classic fables, but instead the third act of each turned into big chase sequences. I was especially turned off by the third act of Up, especially the dogs in the airplanes.

    Toy Story 3 had emotions I could relate to and predicaments that seemed to follow a more logical story flow. What I enjoyed is that I really couldn’t predict what would happen next, and enjoyed the experience of seeing how the Toys were going to get out of their predicament. The flip side is that I felt there were some mediocre moments in the animation and direction but thankfully I wasn’t dwelling on these aspects as the story propelled me forward.

    Ultimately, the few sour points of the film were redeemed by the ending, which I thought was entirely spot on and emotionally resonant. I’m grateful the toys are together and are going to be loved by someone else.

    The one element that was missing was the recognition on the toys’ behalf that this cycle of love and loss is always going to be their lot in life, and this story will play out once again as the little girl gets older and abandons her toys for more “grown up” things. Still, I’m happy they’ve found a new home and are loved once again.

  20. on 27 Jun 2010 at 3:34 pm 20.Joe said …

    “Joe, what makes you think this is the end of the TOY STORY films?”

    Maybe I’m just hoping this is the last feature. I like sequels to a point. Having some shorts with the characters sounds great. I’m looking forward to that. Thanks for the heads up.

  21. on 27 Jun 2010 at 10:26 pm 21.Ignacio Carlos Ochoa said …

    Hi Michael.
    I expected more from this film too.
    Of course the Pixar’s films are technically perfect, very good narrated and directed, and these are more rich visually than any other studio.
    And then I expect solid characters, good stories, funny animation…No formulas.
    I think that the new characters are so poors. Poors on design and personality. Above all, the main villain. The lame bear. Not even I remember his name. (May be he is a popular toy there in USA? I don’t know)

    And the human animation fails to convince me even. I don’t like the little girl performance. I feelled the same, with “Boo” performance in Monsters Inc.

    Well, sorry about my english.

    A warm hug from Argentina.

  22. on 01 Jul 2010 at 8:44 am 22.richard o'connor said …

    I’d like to think Toy Story 4 will pick up where Toy Story 3 left off -at least for me. I walked out after about an hour of being treated like a toy in nursery room full of hyperactive three year olds.

    In this scenario, our heroes become erstwhile Naggs and Nells wandering the trash heap in an existential haze. They’ve already got the constant repetition down, now to put some substance to it.

  23. on 03 Jul 2010 at 4:12 am 23.CHR said …

    Hi everybody,

    I have to say that something I´ve started to dislike in the Pixar movies is their somehow coward endings. I remember that while watching UP I thought that the moral of the story was going to be somehow in the line of “sometimes you cannot achieve all you wish in your life but you win other things instead”, just to see that idea watered down by the old man getting to THE special desired spot and having a “happily ever after” final moment with Russell. Speaking about formulaic Disney :/ Same with Wall-E and now with Toy Story 3. In the burning scene I thought: “Wow! What a really bold way to end the franchise”. Then again when Andy found that Woody was in the box for the girl. :/ Just saying…

  24. on 04 Apr 2012 at 12:08 pm 24.Toy Story 3, The Bittersweet Finale - The Animation Anomaly said …

    [...] No, this is a straight-up, honest account of how I hated about 95% of Toy Story 3 and how it all worked out in the end, sort of. If you want an animator’s perspective, I highly recommend reading Michael Sporn’s thoughts on the film. I agree with most of his points, which is why I’m linking to it. [...]

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