And To Think, Mattel thought Toy Story Would Be a Flop

10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing Toy Story 3

  1. It's a character driven movie.
    The reason Toy Story 3 exists can be found in a single line of dialogue from Toy Story 2: "Do you really think Andy is going to take you to college, or on his honeymoon? Andy's growing up, and there's nothing you can do about it."

    Even though Toy Story 2 ends on an up-note, we can't shake the feeling that someday, eventually, Andy would grow up. He would tire of his toys eventually. This is the beginning of Toy Story 3, where we catch up to the characters 10 years on, and find out how they confront this situation. All the characters we know and love are here, so we get to jump directly into the plot.

    That being said...
  2. The plot is kinda weak.
    There are two types of movies, the kind that feature great characters, and the kind that feature great adventures. Typically, the kind featuring characters get sequels that transpose them into awkward new scenarios in an attempt to liven them up. This is what Toy Story 3 is.

    There's a lot of recycled elements here regarding the Pathetic Fallacy. So much so, I couldn't help but feel Pixar was ripping off The Brave Little Toaster, simply replacing appliances with child's playthings. I would list examples, but I'm trying to be spoiler free. There are lots.
  3. ...But the last ten minutes redeem it all.
    I'm critical of Toy Story 3, but that's only because Pixar has set themselves upon a plateau practically unreachable by anything short of monumental filmmaking. As such, the dark comedy premise of Daycare being equated with Prison fails to reach the apex, despite its grand comical execution.

    But this is hardly Pixar's fault. As mentioned, the movie exists to finally and precisely answer how Andy says goodbye to his beloved toys. But, this plot offers twenty minutes maximum of potential story. As such, the movie needs to be padded out. And that's what Sunnyside Daycare delivers, enough drama and comedy to make the final goodbye even more worthwhile.

    The final ten minutes, where Andy ties up the loose threads and makes good to Woody, Buzz and the rest is exactly what Pixar promised, what we the audience expected, and what the characters and franchise deserved. I don't want to give away too much, but this tearjerker of an ending will satisfy all. It was the perfect ending to the franchise.
  4. The marketing is Really Overselling the new characters.
    Look at the poster. How many characters are jam packed in there? Could they possibly fit more in, maybe a few plastic army men in the crevices? That's not even the worst part. The worst part is marketing has lead us to believe each of these characters is equal in importance to the story. The truth is, with the exception of Lotso-Huggin-Bear and Ken, these characters are barely characters at all. They're just there to fill the role of "Other toys." They have no personality, and could easily be replaced with no impact.

    Even more ridiculous, Pixar made the common animation mistake of hiring big-name celebrities to voice these characters. How many dollars could John Lasseter have saved if he didn't hire James Bond to voice Mr. Pricklepants? Did Whoopi Goldberg really need to voice Stretch the Octopus? She had three lines, and was never mentioned by name.

    Thankfully, a lot of these minor characters are voiced by professional voice actors, or Pixar staff. But still, half of the characters on this poster are glorified extras, and the marketing staff is hoping franchise opportunities don't care either way.
  5. Pixar tries two-tier storytelling, and succeeds.
    In Toy Story, Woody wass the main character with Buzz as the secondary. In Toy Story 2, it was the opposite. Buzz had all the major scenes while Woody had several existential crises. In both films, one character stood in the foreground while the other stayed on the sidelines, supporting them. One had the action, while one drove the plot.

    In every Pixar movie up until this point, plots have been straight and narrow. This isn't a bad thing, but the Toy Story franchise very clearly has two, equal protagonists. There should be opportunities for both Woody and Buzz to share the limelight. Well, Toy Story 3 tries this and succeeds. There are moments where Buzz and Woody separate, each taking a portion of the plot, each meeting their respective conflicts and fulfilling them to their own abilities. When the two diverging paths reconnect, the movie as a whole benefits. It's an advanced narrative technique, and for a first attempt, it's executed masterfully.
  6. Andy finally gets some development.
    In Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Andy is little more than a plot device. A MacGuffin. The characters are toys, and Andy is the child who plays with the toys. We know little about the child, other than he has an equal appreciation for cowboys and astronauts, and is not above integrating his sister's Barbie dolls into his playtime routines.

    While we don't get a full biography of Andy in Toy Story 3, he at least evolves past his previous niche as a prop. We see how much Andy cares about his toys, viewing them as more than possessions or playthings. He has actual emotion invested in them. He realizes he has no use for a Mr. Potato Head or piggy bank at college, but he can't bring himself to detach them from his life.

    Andy's toys are an extension of his soul. His existence is equally defined by them as they are by Andy. We don't learn a lot about Andy (after all, it's not his movie), but we do learn everything we need during the film (especially the finale). Also, college-aged Andy is voiced by the same actor who voiced Young Andy in the first two Toy Stories. A great detail further driving home the point.
  7. Sid returns. Sorta.
    I was really hoping Sid appeared in Toy Story 3 as an adult. Preferably as a psychologically scarred individual who goes into a mental frenzy after seeing Woody crossing the street.

    It doesn't happen this way, but Sid does indeed return (I know it was him, he's listed in the credits.) It's not an obvious cameo, so you really have to look for him. But he's there, and he winds up pretty much exactly where you'd expect a kid like Sid to end up.
  8. It's not getting the Oscar.
    Toy Story 3 was great, I thoroughly endorse it, and it is a great finale to the franchise. But it's not getting the Academy Award.

    As much as it pains me to say it, Dreamworks really upped their game this year, and How to Train Your Dragon is the better film.

    Edit: Hah ha! Boy, was I wrong about this one!
  9. Don't bother with the 3D.
    Toy Story 3 went down the same path as Clash of the Titans. The 3D was shoehorned in, and the film suffers. Not one critic recommends spending the extra two dollars on the 3D version, and I agree with them.

    It's just not a 3D film. Things don't pop out at the audience. Up had moments where the 3D gimmick was a benefit, but the majority of Toy Story 3's action was designed for, and executed well in glorious 2D.

    Besides, those glasses never work properly with people who wear prescription lenses.
  10. Toddlers really are frightening, terrifying creatures.
    Way to endear yourself to your target demographic, Pixar. Although I do agree with you. Toddlers are quite literally the human equivalent of maggots. They're young, wriggly, disgusting, and they secrete ooze.


Going Against the Family

There has always been one scene in Fight Club that I found particularly engaging. Amidst the scenes of anti-consumerism, neo-facism, psychological debate, nihilism, bitch tits and bouts of fisticuffs, there is a scene where Fight Club begins to grow in popularity and notoriety (despite this being a direct violation of Fight Club's first two rules). In doing so, Fight Club is visited one night by a local mob boss. I don't care enough at the moment to look up his name, so I'll simply call him Johnny Mafia. It doesn't matter, anyway. Johnny Mafia senses opportunity in Fight Club, and he hopes to persuade Tyler Durden into seeing things their way, but Tyler wants nothing of it.

In the Chuck Palahniuk novel, there are two unwritten rules to Fight Club never mentioned in the film

A) Nobody is the center of the fight club except for the two men fighting.
B) Fight Club will always be free.

The very fact that Johnny Mafia wants to violate both these ordinances by assuming control of Fight Club and capitalizing it is in direct conflict with Fight Club's ideals and purposes. We've all seen the film, so we know what happens next. Tyler refuses the offer, Johnny Mafia starts beating the shit out of Tyler, then Tyler goes bananas and starts screaming, drooling and spitting blood on the Italian American gentleman's face. Reasonably disturbed at the batshit craziness in front of him, the mafia disappears from the film and is never mentioned or heard from again.

It wasn't until recently that I realized why this moment has stuck with me. This wasn't just a throwaway scene to demonstrate Fight Club's presence in society, or a punctuated illustration of Tyler Durden's unstable nature, this was a cinematic changing of the guard.

Before 1999, the manliest man movies possible were westerns, war movies, cop films, and mafia movies. By this time, westerns were distant memories, war movies were transitioning into Oscar Bait, and cop movies were little more than 90-minute cliches. As such, the most adrenaline fueled, testosterone pumping, ball-scratching pieces of cinema were laced with references to mob bosses, families, and made men. Basically, everything by Quentin Tarantino.

But the 90s changed things. While the decade opened with Goodfellas (in my opinion, the best mafia film ever), culture norms began shifting. The word 'Gangster' no longer elicited images of beefy Italians in pinstripe suits. Gangsters were street thugs. They were Crips or Bloods, they lived in the inner city. They didn't have number games or heists, they mugged people, murdered people, dealt drugs, and were concerned with street warfare over family honor.

This was indicative of the 90s as a whole. As the decade progressed, people were less concerned with formality and regulation. People just wanted to be people. They couldn't be bothered with full-on commitment. Technology and lifestyles created a mindset of speed and impulse. Everything was sample sized. This even rippled out to the latent proto-anarchist impulses of society. In films about crime, audience didn't want an entire history spanning back to the old country. We wanted hedonistic bad dudes blowing shit up and creating mayhem.

Returning to Fight Club, released at the tail end of the 1990's, let's examine the previously mentioned changing of the guard. Giving into societal pressure/demand/disinterest, we have Tyler, the personification of 1990's hedonism and impulse squaring off against Johnny Mafia, a caricature of the soon-to-be-retired mobster motifs. It begins with Johnny telling Tyler to give up; he owns the town, he made the rules, he has power and influence. But Tyler just shrugs it off. Tyler is younger, stronger, and better connected to the people Johnny erroneously believes he governs. More importantly, Tyler just doesn't care. He's a nihilist. Johnny's power of persuasion and deliverance of physical harm is completely ineffective as Tyler beams his blood-soaked teeth, terrifying and emasculating the once proud Don.

Movie audiences made it clear; we don't want long monologues about character and honor, we don't debates about respect and obligation, we don't want redemption and justice. When we want crime, we want criminals and fuck all else. We want brash, we want bold, we want cocksure, we want arrogant. We want small time crooks forced into big situations. We want nice guys forced into bad decisions. We want people knocking over liquor stores because they want money, not because the shopkeeper didn't pay for protection.

We just want somebody to hit someone as hard as they can.


Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin

After seeing The Runaways at SXSW (yeah, I'm still name-dropping that), I gave it a review of 3/5. I'd like to amend that.

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart are two of the finest young actors working in Hollywood. Possibly the two best under 21. While both appeared together in some little-known Vampire franchise, possibly a SyFy channel original, here is where they display their acting prowess in full force.

Both Fanning and Stewart, together, in their primes, should be admired and acknowledged by even the mildest of movie fans. I say without hyperbole Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Joan Jett is Oscar-caliber. And while Dakota Fanning's depiction of Cherie Curie gets overly dramatic in the third act, it hardly sullies an otherwise fine film.

My other large problem with The Runways was the implementation of the standard musician biopic formula. Practically every film documenting a musicians life follows the three-and-a-half act formula:

1) I'm Nobody
2) I'm Famous
3) I'm on drugs
3.5) I'm dead/I'm clean/I'm nobody again.

This isn't the fault of The Runaways, and the film shouldn't shoulder the blame. It's inescapable. It's an overused structure because so many musicians invariably fall victim to this lifestyle. While it is a tad tiresome projected on the big screen for the 822nd time, it's at least honest and accurate. Would it be better if the third act began with Joan helping Cherie kick her drug habit, then swearing off vice altogether, traveling the country warning young girls of the dangers of drugs and alcohol?

As a result of my recent softening, I hereby redact my previous rating of The Runaways from 3/5, and replace it with 4/5.

But why now? Why wait three months to change my mind? Simply put: The Distributor fucked up. Of all the SXSW films, very few wound up getting distributed. Even fewer would be distributed to theaters. As mentioned before, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are very talented actresses, but more importantly, they're popular. Popular means bankable. Bankable means returns. Returns means profit (take note, Underpants Gnomes).

All over SXSW, I saw posters and heard buzz about The Runaways. It was one of the headlining films. People wanted to see this movie. When The Runaways made its way to my homestead, St. Louis, I heard nothing about it. Nothing. With the exception of a listing in the movie timetables of the newspaper and a poster inside the theater in which it was currently playing, The Runaways received no press.

And who is at fault for all of this? None other than Apparition, a newly-formed distribution company and subsidiary of Sony Pictures Worldwide. Focusing on arthouse cinema, Apparition completely dropped the ball concerning The Runaways. With the legion of fangirls who would empty their piggy banks for the privilege of seeing a new film starring Fanning and Stewart, regardless of content, the film would have retaken it's 10 million dollar budget in a single weekend.

But that's not all. In addition to catering to fangirls, the film would also appeal to audiophiles with its depiction of one of the most famous, game-changing rock bands in history. It also had great writing, powerful acting, and a strong feminist undertone. The Runaways should have been widely released. It should have been a Summer release and surprise blockbuster. It should have had magazine ads, and radio ads, and TV ads, and trailers before other blockbuster films. Instead, it played on a total of 244 theaters. It barely grossed 3.5 million.

Has Apparition heard of marketing? The process of attracting consumers and informing them of a products existence and quality?

Circling back to my original point, The Runaways needs all the support it can get. Apparition doesn't know anything, including how to distribute a film. Audiences barely had a chance to know the movie existed. And critics, like myself, were probably too harsh concerning the genre and its pratfalls. The Runaways does not deserve the hand it was dealt, and while my efforts may be futile at this point, I'm at least making an effort to espouse the quality of a good movie. Which is more than Apparition can claim.