Fern on Film – Toy Story 3

If the Oscar was decided on which film coaxed out the most emotional reactions, Toy Story 3 would win. I cried first five minutes in, then again at least once every 20 minutes until the end. And it’s a comedy for god’s sake.

I refuse to think of it as a kids’ film. It’s much more than that, it’s a Pixar film. Pixar completely convinced me they were on par with any other more adult studio with Wall.e – a film for which they built their virtual camera around the rules and limitations of physical cameras to give it its unique rough-and-ready feel – and then after that they went and made Up, their best film as far as I’m concerned.

Most people will be heckling me by now because of course Toy Story is their best film. And that’s a tough legacy to follow. Amazingly they somehow managed it with Toy Story 2, and since then the studio has been so reliably incredibly that there didn’t seem to be any doubt that Toy Story 3 would be up to the same standard. There were just most concerns that it may lead to teen suicides. Seriously, did you see Finding Nemo? That poor bloody fish! If Greenpeace made Nemo their logo I would join.

So Pixar are ridiculously good at pulling on heart-strings. What else? Oh, they’re hilarious. The films wouldn’t work at all if the humour was anything short of spot on. It’s always easy to name the highlight’s, Up’s was the semi-talking dogs, and Toy Story 3 has Spanish mode Buzz Lightyear. The film uses it to plunder those same picaresque tropes as say Zorro or, on more of a similar level, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. It’s utterly hilarious, but it is also more evidence of the studio’s awareness of movie history and styles, and their ability to incoprorate them into their stories. It’s that kind of thing that pushes them into genius territory – their films are cinematic, and have a real feel for their place in the film history.

Are you raising your eyebrow yet? Don’t. Go watch Toy Story 3. Watch a bunch of Pixar films. They’re the best advert American culture has for itself right now, evidenced by the close mutual-respect relationship between Pixar and Japan’s almighty Studio Ghibli. Or Pixar head John Lasseter’s increasingly godlike status at Disney, whose new computer-animated film Tangled is the first he has directly overseen through to completion as producer, and is being described as a return to form for them.

There seems at times to be a Pixar formula. Sometimes you can tell right away who the bad guys are going to be, and what dramatic choices are going to have to be made. That is true of Toy Story 3, but it feels more like a comforting familiar hand, building on how the last two Toy Story films worked but growing the characters and upping the ante – especially emotionally. The characters have been realistically expanded and solidified for three movies now, and there really is a connection there that makes the more depressing parts of the film painful to watch. Really. Those toys. It took a lot of skill to do that.

Is this coming across as too earnest? Lacking any form of perspective? Rabid fanboyism? This is what these films do to people. I don’t care about any of the people in any of the other nominated films half as much as I care about the cowboy doll Woody, and I don’t think I’m alone. Alright so it won’t win the Oscar, but it still might be emotionally and technically the best film nominated. Weird, isn’t it?

You can follow Michael Fern on Twitter @popmikey
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