All recent bad kids' movies — Furry Vengeance and Marmaduke come to mind — have one thing in common: a PG rating. It's a license for fart jokes, as well as humor involving pee, kaka, blows to the crotch, and gratuitous violence. Such material is to movies what refined sugar is to cereal: instant gratification of primitive tastes, providing a quick buzz, at the expense of rotting minds.
|Toy Story 3 | Directed by Lee Unkrich | Written by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich | with Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, Ned Beatty, Estelle Harris, and Jodi Benson | Walt Disney Studios | 109 minutes
Not that I have anything against the artful use of flatulence. In fact, Toy Story 3
, for all its creativity, wit, originality, and luminous wholesomeness, doesn't shy from it. But with its G rating, it has to be a bit more subtle. And without the cheap fix of passed gas, it needs alternative sources of stimulation, like ingenious physical gags, clever twists, gleeful surreality, endearing characters, and funny dialogue.
I doubt the folks at Pixar, given their credentials, have need of crude measures. But when you return to a franchise after 11 years, you never know whether the inspiration may be running dry. I did think Toy Story 2 was getting a little stiff in the joints, and at times this third outing, also directed by Lee Unkrich, shows similar signs of fatigue. It doesn't resort to scatology, but it does succumb to sentimentality, repeating platitudes about loyalty and family and the usual palaver.
Such bromides almost smother the grown-up theme at the heart of the series: transience, loss, and mortality. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the gang are analog toys in a digital world. They are talismans that open a child's imagination, as we see in the exhilarating fantasy of the opening sequence. But this is all in flashback. The toys' owner, Andy, is now 17 (he should be closer to 21, since the first film came out in 1995) and is on his way to college. His retro playthings are nostalgic clutter, fated for the attic, the trash (as in other Pixar hits like WALLE and Ratatouille, garbage plays a major role, for some reason), or day care.
The toys manage to visit each of those places, and a few others, too, but the film doesn't spring to life till they arrive at that last destination. At first, day care seems like a heavenly reward for the abandoned toys, a candy-colored world of adorable anthropomorphic items like themselves. But then the kids show up, all apparently in need of Ritalin. Worse, the other toys are not as friendly as they seem. The avuncular Lots-o-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) turns out to be like the warden in Cool Hand Luke, and his henchman Big Baby, with her zombie demeanor and wall-eye, seems like one of the Tim Burton–esque monstrosities made by sinister Sid in the original Toy Story.
To his credit, though Lotso might be treacherous and smell like strawberries, he doesn't kid himself about the nature and destiny of all toys: after the owner grows up, the magic disappears, and they become once again a manufactured product, threadbare, unloved, and doomed for the dump. Pitted against that inevitability is the spunk and ingenuity of Woody and Buzz and their pals — not to mention the genius of the filmmakers who give them life. It might be G-rated, but Toy Story 3 is fully mature.