THREE'S THE CHARM, THE TEARJERKER AND PERHAPS THE BEST @ 7 November 2010 09:03 PM

Pixar already has Hollywood dumbfounded by its unbroken track record of solid box office hits. Now Toy Story 3 has surged ahead of its sister films and become the leader. It has also done what even Coppola couldn't do: make a third sequel that arguably tops the first two films.

Much has already been said and written about Toy Story 3. While the majority of opinions have been positive, it has also been called the "darkest" of the Toy Story movies. Some have also expressed displeasure at the cruelty of the Lotso character. [Spoiler alert] One might wonder if there were some behind the scenes debates; there had to been some concern that the fluffy pink bear's misbehavior might have affected merchandising and such (though to our family's thinking, we've reconciled the plush and theme park versions of Lotso as "other Lotsos" and not the discarded, bitter bear we saw in the movie.

Toy Story 3, like all of Pixar's features and shorts, seem to have a creative vision funneled through a singular director. Even though TS3's director, Lee Unkrich, has been with the franchise since the beginning, this particular film really has Unkrich's humor and intensity.

This theory is based on the extensive and detailed audio commentary he does with producer Darla K (for Kay) Anderson, in which explains the stories behind the story decisions and even the little jokes (for instance, Michael Keaton mispronounced "library" as Ken and Unkrich left it in and overruled requests to the contrary -- and it does get a laugh in theaters). But on a larger scale, if one were to take the caricature of him literally (which you can see in a bonus feature about the crew shaving their heads), he seems to be perceived as a pretty intense fellow.

I saw the movie three times in theaters and my family saw it twice. It made me misty eyed every time, both at the beginning and especially at the end. Like Walt Disney's classic animation, these CG-generated creatures have the ability to elicit real emotion from viewers. When Andy explains each toy to little Bonnie, it's truly touching, not contrived for effect. And yet the film is laugh out loud funny in other places, such as Mr. Potato Head's makeshift "base bodies." Much of these ideas are explained in the commentary too.

Nearly every animated feature today uses celebrity voices, but to the new and carryover casts of Toy Story 3, this isn't just a pick-up-the-check-and-mention-it-to-Leno deal to any of the stars involved here. They know they are part of something special and don't take it lightly, I'm certain. My favorite performances have to be Jodi Benson as Barbie and the aforementioned Keaton as Ken. The apparently did their lines together and the timing pays off (many voice actors, especially stars, do their lines separately). It's even funny when Ken is reading the roll and, angry at his lady doll, call her name out with middle-school disdain ("BAR-bie.") Things like this make repeated viewings fun.



Most of the extras are on the 2 Blu-ray discs, though the commentary and a few of the "animatic"-style behind the scenes features are also on the single DVD. I was particularly pleased that there is also a narrative audio option for the entire film, so those with sight challenges can enjoy the film as a narrator explains the action. This is actually quite nice as a bonus feature too, because you don't have to stare at the screen and you can get a "Disneyland Storyteller" LP-type experience. Perhaps this service, produced by WGBH in Boston, will be included on future Disney and Pixar releases.



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