Screenwriter Michael Arndt told a virtual roundtable that “writing ‘Toy Story 3′ was a three-year ordeal of anxiety and barely suppressed panic. And the only person more desperate and panic-stricken than me was Lee Unkrich, the director. We really didn’t want to let anyone down, and it’s a huge relief to be told by fans that we didn’t completely blow it.”
He was being both honest and modest, because anyone with a brain can fathom how much pressure was on these guys to follow in the footsteps of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2“–two great films–and anyone who’s seen “Toy Story 3” knows that the second sequel more than holds its own. Fans at The Internet Movie Database rated “Toy Story” (1995) an 8.2 out of 10, “Toy Story 2” (1999) an 8.0, and “Toy Story 3” (2010) an unbelievable 8.8–and I use that adjective not because I disagree with the rating, but because it truly is rare that a second sequel surpasses the first two films.
In the world of CGI animation, one ready explanation is that technology keeps improving, and the humans in “Toy Story 3” look as astounding as the family dog, with natural-looking hair, movement and skin that’s light-years ahead of the ghostly porcelain humans we saw in such early CGI animated films as “The Polar Express.” Director Lee Unkrich noted that a main criticism of the first “Toy Story” was that the humans looked like toys, and he made it a top priority to create human-looking people. If we can’t do that, he told his animators, then we shouldn’t be making this movie. They did meticulous research, too, creating worlds that are familiar not only in their toy-related nostalgia but in the everyday environments in which toys usually appear. And while it may not have the dramatic visual pop in 3D that the second “Toy Story” film has, it’s still has nice depth and enough 3D effects to make it a winner.
The screenplay itself is also quite accomplished, and Arndt, who won an Oscar for writing the script for “Little Miss Sunshine,” brings the same mixture of pathos and comedy and adds drama for good measure. In a way, his screenplay does for this franchise what “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” did for the “Star Wars” franchise–it takes it to another level, and a slightly darker one at that. Oh, sure, Barbie gets to meet Ken, finally, and Ken turns out to be, shall we say, flamboyant, which makes for great comic moments. There are also plenty of laughs to be had by transporting the toys to a day-care center full of snot-nosed kids. But the apex moment of peril in “Toy Story 3” is far more serious in tone and circumstance than anything that happened in the first two films. While the prospector and toy collector from Al’s Toy Barn proved to be villains of the second order, there’s something about a stuffed bear speaking in a southern accent and turning a preschool into a prison for his toy minions that feels more “Cool Hand Luke” urgent.
In “Toy Story 3” we get more character development from the toys, and yet they still behave in ways that are consistent with what we know about them from the previous two films. It all starts when Andy is packing up to go to college, and a bag of toys mistakenly intended for the attic is put on the curb by Andy’s mom. Woody, meanwhile, has been tossed into a box that Andy was taking to college (Okay, here I’ve got to say, Really? Co-eds and stuffed animals I can understand, but this guy would have gotten razzed right out of the dorm.) Well, one thing leads to another and before you know it Woody is following the toys to Sunnyside Day Care, where his friends have been led into the “caterpillar room” after being shown the loving attention the kids give their toys in the “butterfly room.” Age turns out to be the difference, although the Pixar bunch takes liberties with what happens in a day-care center. Turns out that no toys want to be in the caterpillar room because the toddlers are so rough with the toys that it feels like a war zone to them. The new toys have to pay their dues and do what a purplish-pink boss named Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty) says. And this guy has an enforcer that will remind older moviegoers of the doll Chuckie. Big Baby is a battered baby toy with ink all over him, and that looks a lot like prison tattoos.
But as dark as it is, it’s still well within its “G” rating, and that’s another part of the genius of this film: its wide appeal. At one point the toys seem resigned to their doom and hold hands, looking at each other with deep and expressive eyes, yet in that darkest moment viewers feel more love and affection than fear of dying. Which is to say, light moments balance the dark. Much of the fun comes from Barbie (Jodi Benson) and Ken (Michael Keaton), who look like the real Barbie and Ken dolls but with animation, and also just from seeing the old toys again. Bonus features show that it was an emotional reunion for the “Toy Story” voices who returned for this installment: Tom Hanks as Woody, the sheriff doll; Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, the space-age action figure; Joan Cusack as Jessie the cowgirl from “Woody’s Round-Up”; Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head and Estelle Harris as Mrs. Potato Head; Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger as Hamm, the pig bank; Wallace Shawn as Rex the dinosaur; and replacing the late Jim Varney as Slinky Dog, Blake Clark.
Like the other films in the franchise, “Toy Story 3” throws in a lot of allusions to other films, other characters, and American pop culture. A Studio Ghibli character–Totoro–even makes an appearance, because it turns out that the animators are big Miyazaki fans. Nice touches abound, like the casting of mean-kid Sid (Erik von Detten) from the first “Toy Story” as a garbage man, while nice-guy Andy is headed for college and a higher-paying job, and the introduction of Spanish Buzz (I won’t spoil it by saying any more).
Some of the strongest scenes concern a little girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn), who moves, talks, and behaves exactly like a preschooler. The play that she goes through with her own toys is full of life and imagination and introduces viewers to a whole new set of toys, all of whom act like the troupe of performers from “A Bug’s Life,” since they see their interaction with Bonnie as role-playing. Among them are a hedgehog who thinks he’s a Shakespearian actor (Timothy Dalton), a triceratops named Trixie (Kristen Schaal), a doll named Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), and a unicorn named Buttercup (Jeff Garlin).
In the end, it’s an adventure that’s not only worthy of the previous two films, but of the whole Pixar catalog. It looks absolutely gorgeous in 1080p HD, and it’s even more interesting in 3D.
“Toy Story 3” is one of those films you never want to end, because every frame is such a sheer delight to look at. Textures pop out at you as much as the colors. “Who needs 3D-TV when a standard Blu-ray looks this good? ” I wrote in an earlier review. Well, I have to grudgingly admit that 3D does add a new dimension to the film. While I thought the critical scenes in “Toy Story 2” were more dramatically effective in 3D, “Toy Story 3” has its own charms, with everything looking believably 3-dimensional. There are just enough break-the-plane scenes to delight fans who define the 3D experience by the number of times they feel as if they could reach out and touch an object or character. Colors are bold and vivid, textures are superb, and the geometric architectonics offers a pleasing contrast of shapes in almost every scene. Black levels are strong, and edge delineation is right-on. I said in my review of “Toy Story 2” that this Pixar series was made for 3D, and that’s certainly the case here. The 3D is truly more of an enhancement than a gimmicky distraction, making this disc and “Toy Story 2” as strong as the “Cars 2” release.
I saw only minor ghosting and no other artifacts from the MVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc. Disney knows how to do things right, and they’ve produced another winner. “Toy Story 3” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is truly dynamic, with a fully immersive DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack naturally distributing the dialogue, effects, and music so that there’s almost constant logical movement across the sound field. The bass comes to life with plenty of rumble too in crucial scenes, and the voices are all hyper-clear. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Where to begin? There’s more than five hours of bonus features included here, and I’m sure I’ll forget something. This 5-disc combo pack includes a Blu-ray containing the feature film plus bonus features, a second Blu-ray disc full of bonus features, a DVD featuring the film and bonus features, and a Digital Copy on the fifth disc.
Let’s start with the DVD extras, because they’ll appear on the Blu-ray along with added features. “Day & Night” (6:05) is a Pixar short film–what would a Pixar release be without one?–from artist and director Teddy Newton. “Toys!” (6:37) is a look at how the old toys got facelifts and new ones were developed.”Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science of Adventure” (4:30) is a short animated documentary reminiscent of the old WWII instructionals, in which Buzz visits the International Space Station and we learn about zero gravity. “Paths to Pixar: Editorial” (4:38) is a how-I-got-here feature full of career anecdotes from the principles. “The Gang’s All Here” (10:46) is the voice talent reunion featuring the original actors. “A Toy’s Eye View: Creating a Whole New Land” (5:19) is a sneak peek at the new “Toy Story” playland at Hong Kong Disneyland. And “Studio Stories” (6:57) is a trio of playful animated shorts showing what life is like at Pixar (apparently a lot of fun): “Where’s Gordon?” (about a hidden room that’s discovered, “Cereal Bar” (where all the cool people eat), and “Clean Start” (how the Pixar crew shaved their heads at the start of the film).
Now, on to the additional features on the two Blu-ray discs. There are two ways to re-watch the film: “Cine-Explore,” which is a commentary from director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson, with pop-up static (no film) drawings, production photos, storyboard pages, etc. My son, who likes to draw, really liked this feature. I would have preferred a little more depth. The Alternate Commentary is the tech commentary track featuring story supervisor Jason Katz, supervising technical director Guido Quaroni, production designer Bob Pauley, and supervising animators Bobby Podesta and Michael Venturini. It’s fairly typical of the tech commentaries, jam-packed with information.
The best feature, for my money, is “Beginnings: Setting a Story in Motion” (8:13), which is an animated guide to screenwriting narrated by Michael Arndt. It’s probably the best primer on the structure of a film that I’ve seen, and entertaining to boot. If you loved the Bonnie scenes, as I did, you’ll also like “Bonnie’s Playtime: A Story Roundtable” (6:26) which finds the Pixar team talking about how to bring her play to life. Meanwhile, “Roundin’ Up a Western Opening” (5:42) zeroes in on the rootin’-tootin’ opening scene, which gets more discussion in “Life of a Shot” (6:57). “Goodbye Andy” (8:02) explores the conception, design, and animation that all-important last scene. And if you liked the Pixar short, you’ll probably like the very brief story behind the “Making of Day & Night” (2:00).
For the game players, there’s a single offering: “Toy Story Trivia Dash,” which is a well-designed game but one that was apparently designed by over-caffeinated people. It’s a two-player race that shows two characters on a time-line so you can see, instantly, who’s winning, and you take turns handing the remote back and forth to answer trivia questions. Before starting the game you select “Toy Story 3” or “All Toy Story Films,” but if we need an option the one we could really use is a “Beginner” and “Advanced” choice. I’m a fast reader, but I found that it takes an Evelyn Wood to scan the question, process it, locate the number keys to be able to press the right one, all in time before you get beeped. My eight-year-old daughter really loved the concept and wanted to play, but there was no way she could keep up. So this one isn’t for the whole family.
On the Blu-rays, the commentaries are actually on the second disc, as are most of the bonus features. They’re arranged according to categories: Family Play, Film Fans, Games & Activities, and Publicity. Everything I’ve described so far is divided into the first two sections and also found on the first Blu-ray disc. As for the publicity, there are a ton of small promos and galleries, but they’re all brief or scant: “Grab Bag” (4:00), “Ken’s Dating Tips” (1:30), “Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear Commercial” (:30), “The Making of LHB Commercial” (1:28), “Internet Chat” (1:00), “Security Cam” (1:12), “Gadgets” (:58), “Dancing with the Stars at Pixar” (they got choreographers to help them with Spanish Buzz’s dance in this 2:21 feature), plus seven trailers and character notes. Topping it off is a poster gallery.
As I said, I’m probably missing something, because there’s just an awful lot here.
Favorite moments abound in this film, Pixar delights that make “Toy Story 3” a fun film to watch over and over. What more is there to say except, They’ve done it again, and the 3D presentation actually makes the film more fun to watch.