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Entries in Toy Story 3 (2)

Friday
Jun222012

Brave

It’s unreasonable to expect Pixar to put out an animated classic every year. To keep up a standard of excellence as good as Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 would be near impossible and last year, the seemingly infallible studio had its first bust with Cars 2. The film, while fast paced and colorful, was missing the character relationships that were so strong in its predecessor. It was missing the emotion and the humanity (yes, there was humanity in those machines). For the first time, Pixar made a bad movie. It’s too early to tell if that was the beginning of the end of quality entertainment from the studio, but judging from their newest release, Brave, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Brave isn’t amazing and when compared to Pixar’s other 12 full length releases, it’s closer to the bottom than it is to the top, but at least it’s good and it offers some substance to complement its gorgeous visuals.

The film follows the young Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) as she approaches her betrothal. For her entire life, her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), has prepared her for this moment, where young men from competing kingdoms will compete for her hand in marriage. The problem is Merida doesn’t want to get married. She wants to be free, able to ride the countryside on her horse and practice her archery as she sees fit. Prim and proper isn’t her way of approaching life, so to avoid marriage, she buys a spell from a witch in the nearby woods. The spell is meant to change her mother so she won’t feel it necessary to force Merida into marriage, but the spell instead changes her into a bear. This threatens her safety as her father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly), is an avid bear hunter and has been ever since a mysterious bear took his leg years ago. Furthermore, two sunrises from now, her mother will be changed forever, so she must hurry if she wishes to break the spell.

What was sorely missing so much in Cars 2 is central to Brave. This isn’t about dazzle; it’s about human relationships—more specifically, mother-daughter relationships—and the bond the two eternally have. It’s about listening and trying to understand each other even when you disagree. It’s a simple message to be sure, but it’s one that speaks to both children and parents that highlights the importance of love and understanding. The theme is presented perhaps a bit too on-the-nose, however, considering that after Queen Elinor is turned into a bear all she can do is listen. The movie doesn’t set up a scenario where the characters discuss how they feel about the situation. It instead thrusts them into a situation where one is forced to hear the other out. The script obviously had a thematic goal in mind, but it doesn’t seem to know how to get there without literal interpretations. The script is anything but subtle and as far as writing goes, when isolated from the movies they represent, Brave is one of Pixar’s weakest.

The writers don’t even take the time to map out a proper villain, instead throwing in another spellbound human in a similar situation as Queen Elinor to make things a bit more dangerous and further enforce its theme of mother-daughter love as forcefully as possible. Where they succeed is in the creation of Merida’s little brothers, identical triplets named Harris, Hubert and Hamish. They don’t speak a word the entire movie, but they’re easily the best characters in it. They’re energetic, mischievous and very funny and the antics they pull off, both for their own benefit and to help out their family, are endlessly amusing. Their rascally behavior usually means pranking others, which leads to enough slapstick to fill a Kevin James movie, but it’s harmless in its approach and provides the biggest laughs.

But the feeling of disappointment lingers on. A movie as good as this one would be a delight if coming from another studio, but Pixar is capable of so much more. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction. If Cars 2 was three steps back, Brave is two steps forward. It doesn’t come close to matching the brilliance of their best, but it’s also a far cry from mediocrity. Some people lost some faith in the studio last year and Brave won’t completely restore it, but it will give them cause for optimism that Pixar hasn’t lost their touch. They’re just saving it for something special.

Brave receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jun182010

Toy Story 3

Things were simpler in the early 90’s. Hollywood worked the way it always had. We had our dramas. We had our comedies. We had our romances. We also had our animated movies, a group of films largely meant to be for children. Most were hand drawn with perhaps a few touch ups from our friendly computers. Then in 1995, along came a little company called Pixar with Toy Story, a film that completely redefined what we could expect from animation, making it a smash hit. Being the first fully computer animated movie certainly helped its cause, but it also provided a story that could be understood and loved by any age, finally proving that animation wasn’t just for children. Four years later, Pixar topped themselves with Toy Story 2. Now eleven years later, it looks like they’ve done it again with the marvelous Toy Story 3, which is easily one of the best films of the year, animated or otherwise.

Andy (John Morris), now grown-up since we last saw him, is about to head to college. His toys he used to have so much fun with have sat in a trunk in his room for the last few years. It seems he’s simply outgrown them. His mother (Laurie Metcalf) explains to him that when he leaves for college, she wants all of his stuff out, including his toys. He needs to stash them up in the attic, throw them out, or take them with him to college, so he makes the decision to take his favorite toy Woody (Tom Hanks) with him while his other toys collect dust. He unwisely packs them in a trash bag, however, and his mother throws them out, but instead of being demolished they end up at Sunnyside Day-Care where they are promised attention from a seemingly gentle teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty). But not all is as it seems and the day-care becomes more like a prison. So now Buzz (Tim Allen), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and the rest of the gang devise a breakout plan under Woody’s supervision, hoping to get home before Andy leaves without him.

When I was a child, I had a very active imagination. Just like the kids in these movies, I used to cherish my toys and play with them as if they were alive. They were my best friends. I used to wonder what they did when they were alone. I wanted to believe they had their own little world outside of my playtime with them and sprang to life when I was gone. Therein lies the brilliance of the original Toy Story. Never before had I seen my thoughts and wonders as a child translated so faithfully. Now I’m an adult. I live in the adult world. I have an adult schedule and I have adult bills to pay. I haven’t even seen my old toys in many years, much less played with them, but for the first time in a very long while, I can feel my imagination springing to life. Toy Story 3 is one of those films that reminds you what it’s like to be a child, jumping and running and having the time of your life. This is a special movie.

At a certain point in your life, you are pressured to give away your cherished possessions. All those dolls and action figures you spent countless hours with simply need to go. But if you’re like me, you felt guilty and simply refused to give them away (I have boxes of action figures under my bed). Like the previous movies, Toy Story 3 taps into this guilt, but its meaning goes much deeper. It’s about clinging onto those memories, but also helping others forge their own. It’s about growing up and learning valuable lessons. It’s about identity. It’s about family. It’s about a host of things that all get to the core of what it’s like to come into adulthood.

And it’s like that for all the characters—plastic, plush, furry or flesh. Woody, Buzz and the gang find their own revelations through the events that unfold. They love Andy and want to be with him, but things don’t seem to be going in that direction. The film's not so much about Andy giving them away, but rather them wanting to do what’s best for Andy. The final scene in this movie, a beautiful one that echoes how the adults in the audience will feel while watching it, wraps the trilogy up perfectly. It closes every door while giving just enough of a glimpse into the future so we know that the gang is in good hands.

Of course, everything before this climactic scene is a joy as well. It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s heartfelt. It’s what every movie should strive to be. It’s a juggling act of fear, anxiety, humor and tenderness and not a single ball falls. The fluidity of that hectic combination is masterful in itself. Add in the charming usage of sub-genres, including a story flip to what is essentially Escape from Alcatraz with toys, and you have a surefire winner for all ages.

Toy Story 3 is a delight, a tour de force of childlike imagination and spirit. This isn’t simply premature praise for what some may call a pleasant nostalgia trip. It’s much more than that. Toy Story 3 is truly terrific and will be cherished by generations to come.

Toy Story 3 receives 5/5