During the first 10 minutes or so of “Toy Story 3,” I was getting worried about the film. The character banter, the story situation, the rhythms of peril and emotion — none of it felt new to me. Pixar has made movie history by staying away from one place — familiar ground — so I started to fret that the dream factory’s first movie with a “3” in the title might be a lesson in the mathematics of diminishing originality.
By the halfway mark, “Toy Story 3″ was the best movie of the summer, and by the credits, it was my favorite film of 2010. There’s an especially desperate point in the tale (I won’t say too much) where the main characters all hold hands and silently look into one another’s eyes. The emotion of that scene and the nuanced filmmaking behind it are truly startling, and once again, the best brand name in Hollywood proves that when it comes to their evocative storytelling, animation is just another word for moving.
I saw “Toy Story 3″ with my wife, Tracy, and our two kids, Addie, 12, and Ben, 8. We saw it at the El Capitan Theatre which also is hosting the “Toy Story 3″ Fun Zone, a 25,000-square-foot outdoor attraction. There’s a Ferris wheel, a live stage show, a bungee-style jumping ride, a bounce house and a craft area. There were some old-school carnival games that had been updated with “Toy Story” imagery that my son and I especially enjoyed (like Sunnyside Soakers, a water-gun target game) and a tent where you could try out the new Xbox game tied into the film. You can have your picture taken at a photo spot for a nice themed souvenir, or, of course, there’s a toy store on site so you can spend some money — don’t for a minute think that Disney and Pixar aren’t thrilled that the movie has the word “Toy” right there in the title.
The Fun Zone (which runs through Aug. 29) was a bit low-tech for today’s youngsters, but it was fun, and what I liked about it was that it kept us all there, together, for a few minutes longer in the Pixar universe. We talked about the film and our favorite parts in it and repeated some of the one-liners that the kids loved. I told my son how the movie’s prison-break scenes playfully echoed a lot of famous old movies, like “Cool Hand Luke” and “Escape From Alcatraz,” and we decided to sit down and watch “The Great Escape,” a movie he thought sounded pretty cool. “Toy Story 3″ is leading my son to his first Steve McQueen experience. … Two of my colleagues at the Los Angeles Times, Claudia Eller and Dawn C. Chmielewski, wrote an interesting front-page piece on the corporate trajectory of Disney and Pixar recently, and I was actually thinking about it when the first minutes of “Toy Story 3″ felt like a retread. Here’s the opening of their article:
Pixar Animation Studios, the pioneering digital studio that long prided itself on creating novel stories and characters, is now treading a well-worn Hollywood path.
Three of the company’s next four releases are sequels. On Friday, Pixar debuts the highly anticipated third chapter of its popular “Toy Story” saga, to be followed in the next two years by new installments of “Cars” and “Monsters, Inc.” Pixar won’t have another original movie until 2012, when “Brave,” about a young Scottish girl of royal blood who dreams of becoming a champion archer, arrives in theaters.
The story is still completely accurate, but, now, I see that it missed one simple truth: Every Pixar movie is original, even if it has a number in the title.
— Geoff Boucher
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Images: Pixar / Disney