Just when I thought Hollywood had nothing good to offer this summer, among its countless sequels and bad comic book adaptations (see my Jonah Hex review...), Disney Pixar released Toy Story 3, which proved that franchise films still have the potential to move audiences. I was overjoyed to find that it not only made me laugh my butt off, but it also tugged at my heartstrings, and that's not an easy feat when the main characters are literally made of plastic.
The third in the series of Toy Story films is, to me, perhaps the most entertaining of the lot. Now, I haven't seen the first two in quite a while, but the cinematic references contained within Toy Story 3 trump them all for me, with allusions to prison break classics like The Great Escape and Escape from Alcatraz. Even The Shawshank Redemption gets a nod here. The toy-centric jokes may not be as fresh as they were in 1995, but the folks at Pixar know how to maximize the entertainment factor.
For those of you who don't know yet, Toy Story 3 centers around Andy, the toys' beloved owner, heading off to college, and he's faced with the option of either putting his toys in the attic, throwing them away or donating them to a local daycare center. Through a series of snafus, the toys end up on their way to Sunnyside, a daycare center that at first appears to be a shangri-la, but is later revealed to be more of a nightmare: the plush, strawberry-scented Lots O' Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty) has been ruling the center with an iron fist, much like a deranged prison warden, and he has all of the other toys there brainwashed and under his control. When Woody, Buzz and the gang want to leave, they're held against their will. Only Woody manages to get away and formulates a plan to break his friends out.
One of the most impressive aspects of this film, like any good sequel, is that you don't have to have seen the first two in order to understand what's going on, or care about the characters. There's a really enjoyable, action-packed opening that sets up each toy's personality and their connection to their owner, Andy. It comes in the form of an epic action movie focusing on Woody's attempt to save a train full of orphaned Troll dolls from being sent over a blown-up bridge, masterminded by villains Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. It's an extremely enjoyable ride that instantly hooks you into the story that follows.
And it never really lets up. Yeah, I saw it in IMAX 3D, but my eyes would have been glued to the screen even if things weren't flying out at me. And that's the thing, this movie didn't really have to be in 3D to entertain. In fact, I can't remember a specific instance of being wowed by the effect to the point where I had to say "This 3D is really neat, I want every movie to be in 3D." This bolsters my opinion that 3D is still just an unnecessary gimmick to get more people into theaters and to reap more money from ticket sales. I believe that 3D, like IMAX will and should only be relegated to event films, because for some movies, it simply isn't a needed addition.
That being said, Toy Story 3 is an event film, and could have had some more stereoscopic thrills, but it was such a fun movie that I didn't even think about it. If anything, the 3D got in the way of my enjoyment of the film, because every time I turned my head, the stereoscopic effect became double vision and I'd have to readjust my eyes to see everything correctly.
But again, I must stress, I would have enjoyed this film just as much if it were in 2D, proving that the best way Hollywood can get asses into theater seats is with better content, not more marketing tricks or gimmicky effects. The toys are all well-drawn as characters, even the new additions like Ken (Michael Keaton) and Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton).The villains are appropriately villainous and the action and suspense escalates to a point where, like the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, you're not so sure there's going to be a happy ending.
For what's long been labeled a kid's franchise, Toy Story 3 is fun for all age groups. Many jokes will go over the youngsters' heads, like the not-so-subtle poking fun at Ken's questionable sexuality, or the cute, sometimes comical references to cinematic cornerstones. This is the kind of great movie, like Ghostbusters, you can be captivated by as a child and revisit later in your life to find it even more engrossing and funny. Put simply, Toy Story 3 is great entertainment, the kind that all filmmakers should strive to make.