Friday, July 23, 2021

The Never-Ending (Toy) Story

 I generally avoid movies whose titles end with a number, like Jaws 2 or The Fast and the Furious 5. As I have good reason to know (having worked on Corman franchises like Bloodfist and Slumber Party Massacre), each movie that follows the original is a bit less clever, a bit more predictable. But the good folks at Pixar were not about to let their Toy Story sequels disappoint their loyal fan base. Remarkably, 2010’s Toy Story 3, which I just rewatched, may be the best of the lot. Sure, it still contains familiar characters like valiant Sheriff Woody, spacey Buzz Lightyear, the Potato Head pair, and a fearful Tyrannosaurus Rex, all of them loyal to “their” kid, Andy. But the thing is—Andy is now almost eighteen, and on his way to college. The toys haven’t changed over time, but Andy has. And time becomes film’s big (if hidden) subject.

 This makes it quite a different story from the previous two Toy Story films. The original dealt with such child-appropriate topics as jealousy and friendship. In that 1995 film, the arrival of Buzz—who becomes Andy’s new favorite—rocks Woody to the core. But when the chips are down, Woody and Buzz learn to work together and forge a solid friendship, as underscored by Randy Newman’s Oscar-nominated song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Their relationship continues in Toy Story 2 (1999), in which Buzz needs to come to the rescue of Woody, who’s been kidnapped (toynapped?) by a dastardly collector with plans to send him to Japan.

 But by 2010, the original film’s target audience was on the brink of adulthood, and largely leaving all things Disney behind. In a way, Toy Story 3 is directed at their parents, who have deeply mixed emotions about seeing their offspring fly away from the nest. Yes, Andy’s mom is eager to see him clear out his childhood toys before he goes off to college, but she is still feeling the loss of the little boy she once knew and loved. What happens to the toys that may be headed for the attic—or scrapped—is what this story is about.

 Since the Pixar team understands that young viewers prefer excitement to philosophy, there’s plenty of derring-do here, like some heroic flights from a garbage truck and from a childcare center that seems a paradise but is ruled over by a menacing pink stuffed bear who smells like strawberries (the late Ned Beatty, full of Southern charm and menace). A sequence at the city dump has an Inferno quality, but – of course – ends in a breathless escape. And I defy parents not to be moved when Andy decides what best to do with well-loved toys he’s outgrown.

 Pixar is good, too, at finding ways to tickle adult funny-bones. At the childcare center where the discarded toys briefly find a home, a vapid Barbie (in Jane Fonda-style leotard and leggings) finds the Ken of her dreams, then later tricks him into modeling his elaborate Sixties wardrobe (tie-dye! an astronaut suit!) when he needs to be distracted from the big escape attempt. And I suspect we Boomers remember many of the vintage toys in the film, like the Slinky-dog, the GI Joe action figures, and that talking telephone. The film has more serious matters on its mind, too, like our throwaway culture that decrees that anything out of date should simply be tossed, and that most of our once-cherished possessions ultimately belong in a landfill.

 All in all, it’s a beautiful film with a perfect ending. But then they made Toy Story 4.





  1. What? What about 12 Monkeys? 12 Angry Men? The 300? The 3 Amigos? 3 Men and a Baby? 4 Weddings and a Funeral? Not all movies with numbers in the title are bad!

    But I digress ... what about Terminator 2 or The Godfather Part 2?

  2. You will notice, I hope, that I mentioned movies whose titles END in a number, so 12 Angry Men emphatically doesn't count. As for movie sequels, you're right that there are some very good ones, like those you mention. But I venture to say that these are the rare exceptions. Most (though not all) sequels don't really have new things to say.