The negative critique of Toy Story 3 heard ’round the world
By Armond White
Pixar has now made three movies explicitly about toys, yet the best movie depiction of how toys express human experience remains Whit Stillman’s 1990 Metropolitan. As class-conscious Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) tries fitting in with East Side debutantes, he discovers his toy cowboy pistol in his estranged father’s trash. Without specifying the model, Stillman evokes past childhood, lost innocence and Townsend’s longing for even imagined potency. But Toy Story 3 is so besotted with brand names and product-placement that it stops being about the innocent pleasures of imagination—the usefulness of toys—and strictly celebrates consumerism.
I feel like a 6-year-old having to report how in Toy Story 3 two dolls—Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)—try to save a toy box of childhood playthings from either disuse or imprisonment as donations to a daycare center because their human owner, 17-year-old
Andy, packs them up as he heads off to college. The toys wage battle with the daycare center’s cynical veteran cast-offs: Lotsa Hugs and Big Baby. But none of these digital-cartoon characters reflect human experience; it’s essentially a bored game that only the brainwashed will buy into. Besides, Transformers 2 already explored the same plot to greater thrill and opulence.
While Toy Story 3’s various hazards and cliffhangers evidence more creativity than typical Pixar product (an inferno scene was promising; Lotsa Hugs’ cannily evokes mundane insensitivity), I admit to simply not digging the toys-come-to-life fantasy (I don’t babysit children, so I don’t have to) nor their inevitable repetition of narrative formula: the gang of animated, talking objects journey from one place to another and back—again and again. It recalls how Tim Burton’s atrocious Alice in Wonderland repeated narrative stasis without exercising the famous line: “It takes all the running you can do just to stay in the same place.” Burton’s omission of that legendary, therapeutic slogan parallels how Toy Story 3 suckers fans to think they can accept this drivel without paying for it politically, aesthetically or spiritually.
Look at the Barbie and Ken sequence, where the sexually dubious male doll struts in a chick-flick fashion show. Since it serves the same time-keeping purpose as a chick-flick digression, it’s not satirical. We’re meant to enjoy our susceptibility, not question it, as in Joe Dante’s more challenging Small Soldiers. Have shill-critics forgotten that movie? Do they mistake Toy Story 3’s opening day for 4th of July patriotism?
When Toy Story 3 emulates the suspense of prison break and horror films, it becomes fitfully amusing (more than can be said for Wall-E or Up) but this humor depends on the recognition of worn-out toys, which is no different from those lousy Shrek gags. Only Big Baby, with one Keane eye and one lazy eye, and Mr. Potato Head’s deconstruction into Dali’s slip-sliding “Persistence of Memory” are worthy of mature delectation. But these references don’t meaningfully expand even when the story gets weepy. The Toy Story franchise isn’t for children and adults, it’s for non-thinking children and adults. When a movie is this formulaic, it’s no longer a toy because it does all the work for you. It’s a sap’s story.
Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Runtime: 103 min.