Toy Story 3

Eventually, inevitably, Pixar will make a bad movie. Just not yet.

Judging from its trailer, Cars 2 might turn out to be that movie. The original was okay, but seemed to exist primarily for the sake of its merchandise. The sequel could be awful, but like Toy Story 2 it might turn out to be better than the original. We can only hope.

Toy Story 3 is one of the best third-parts of a film trilogy ever, and although it comes out eleven years after the previous instalment, by its animated nature we are spared an ageing cast trying to recapture past glories. Advances in animation technology have resulted in richer and more detailed environments, so when combined with the relatively simple toy characters it gives the film a weird anime-feeling of immersion*. To acknowledge how things have changed, Studio Ghibli’s mascot Totoro appears as one of the new toys.

Human characters have always been hard to animate. A bendy Tex Avery-style human (like in The Incredibles) can seem much more lifelike than a “realistic” animated human (like in Beowulf) thanks to the Uncanny Valley, but in Toy Story 3 the stiff humans from the first two films have been allowed to relax a bit, although you can tell the animators were probably dying to let them go B-DOIIING!! and WOOPWOOPWOOP! once in a while.

The quality of lighting has also advanced noticeably, with a strong colour scheme for many scenes, the golden glow of a flashback contrasted with the harsh blues and greens of the toy’s incarceration in a daycare centre, and the apocalyptic glare of the incinerator finale. More happens in the first twenty minutes of this movie than in many features, and the nifty Great Escape feel of the second act slides uncomfortably into Holocaust territory, proof that a film with strong visuals is just so much eye-candy without a great script and characters you can actually care about.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film is that the toys become impressively begrimed during their ordeals, yet they’re able to restore themselves to a pristine state after a quick squirt under a garden hose. After five seconds they aren’t even wet. How’s that for nitpicking?

* Scott McCloud calls this technique “masking”, and notes its use in Tintin.

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