Before I start on my review of Toy Story 3 (well, technically 3D), I wanted to mention Star Wars. Why? Because both franchises are vehicles for massive toy sales.
I was reminded of this the other day when I read about one of the original Star Wars producers, Gary Kurtz, who left before the third film because merchandising demands started to impact the story.
“We had an outline and George changed everything in it,” Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”
You can see the parallels, right? I found myself sitting in the cinema wondering why it had taken ten years to get a third Toy Story film into theatres. Watching the movie, you can’t miss the brands who win out – Mattel (Barbie, Ken and Buzz-Off from He-Man), Hasbro (Mr & Mrs Potato Head). Lotso, the new villain, was supposed to be a Care Bear until late on in the process. And of course Woody and Buzz Lightyear have become real toys in their own right since Toy Story first launched.
So, there’s a minor amount of annoyance at the idea that one might be watching an extended advert. I don’t like being exposed to such blatant commercialism, and I suspect many of my Internet brethren don’t, either.
But…the story itself is another thrilling installment in the series. Faultless. Almost.
Woody, Buzz and ‘the gang’ have been semi-retired as their owner Andy has grown up. They’ve languished in a toy box for years, but it’s D-Day – Andy’s going to college and he’s clearing out his room. The toys, clearly, are a problem. Trash them or throw them in the attic?
There are a handful of misunderstandings and the toys eventually end up donated to Sunnyside. Woody ends up in the clutches of a little girl who takes him home. The others are given a warm welcome by the other toys, but they soon discover that they’ve been tricked and put in the room with the kind of children who can dismantle toys in seconds.
Bottom line: hilarity ensues as the toys try to escape and Woody returns to Sunnyside to help rescue them. The gang meet new friends and make new enemies – including the psychotic Lotso, who was replaced when his owner lost him on a picnic, causing him to freak out entirely. Lotso now reigns over the playroom with an iron fist – and his henchtoys Big Baby, Buzz Off and Ken.
The 3D definitely made the movie more watchable, especially some of the set pieces that were presumably designed for the purpose. There was one scene in particular, where the toys ended up in a recycling facility and were sliding into a furnace – well, you forgot entirely that it was a movie and they’d probably be fine. I remember terror overtaking me, and looking round to see the kids sitting pressed into their chairs in horror. Was Woody dying?
To an adult mind, there were bits that didn’t entirely make sense – Woody’s assertion that they’d be better off locked in an attic than donated to a kids home was clearly flawed. These were toys that hadn’t been played with in maybe 5-7 years. To me, the attic represents indefinite hell, and with every likelihood of being dumped at the end of their sentence anyway.
Still, if you forgive that lapse in Woody’s reasoning, Toy Story 3 is a fitting end to the franchise and a bloody good piece of entertainment. Andy’s final goodbye to his toys might have pushed the edges of schmaltzy, but it worked well, as did Woody’s decision to stick with his friends rather than go with Andy to college. Nice to see Buzz wasn’t bitter about that one in the end.
Which brings me to my final observation: I wonder how many Buzz Lightyear owners are right now looking for “Spanish mode” on their toys?