Animation particularly when it comes out of the Disney/Pixar stable is one of those areas of filmmaking that regularly inspires the phrase "They don't make them like they used to." In the case of Toy Story 3 however it's more accurate to say "They have never made them like this." It's certainly not unheard of for an animated film to be good for a Pixar film to be great or for the third film in a trilogy to be outstanding (though that's the rarest of the three) but in the case of Lee Unkrich's film the sheer degree at which it exceeds at all three is not just rare it's unprecedented.
Eleven years have elapsed since Woody (Tom Hanks) Buzz (Tim Allen) and all of Andy's favorite playthings had their last adventure -- rather 11 years have elapsed since Andy stopped playing with his toys. Buoyed by Woody's never-failing devotion the gang is all optimistic that Andy will elect to bring them with him to his first year of college but as that fateful empty-nest day approaches it becomes clearer and clearer that the only toy that will be making the trek to school is Woody. The rest are all by a series of unfortunate events consigned to live out their remaining days at Sunnyside daycare. Things are actually looking up for the neglected entertainers until they realize just how careless the ankle-biters are when it comes to playing with toys.
Unfortunately there is no escape in sight for the lovable personalities Pixar has been refining for over a decade. Lotso Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) runs a tight ship at Sunnyside; the new toys are just going to have to be sacrificed to the aggressive toddlers so the old veterans can have a relaxing time with their more mature counterparts. Eventually Woody catches wind of what kind of life his old pals are being forced to live and Toy Story 3 quite brilliantly becomes a riff on classic prison escape movies as Woody seeks to breach Lotso's security measures and bring his bunch back to Andy where they belong. And while this on-the-run chunk of the film is some of the most thrilling material Pixar has ever delivered it's also some of the most touching.
Unlike most sequels not a moment of Toy Story 3 feels artificial. There's no sense that Pixar decided to make a third film because it knew that the box office would gladly support another entry; no sense that this is a cash grab (unlike a certain green ogre's most recent trip to the big screen). All of those typical sequel pitfalls are carefully avoided by a swelling sense of finality. Toy Story 3 isn't just another adventure with these characters -- there is in fact no doubt that this is their final adventure their final hoorah together. Director Lee Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt meticulously lead the audience along with bated breath the entire time culminating in a life-or-death scenario for the toys that is more heartfelt and genuine than most live-action films can ever muster.
It's astonishing how the creative team at Pixar can make you forget that what you're watching is all a bunch of digital wizardry. Maybe it's the 3D this time around maybe it's that this is the studio's most accomplished technical feat to date (there are single shots at a landfill that pack in richer detail than the entirety of the pioneering first film) that makes Toy Story 3 such an immersive experience. Or maybe it's simply because Pixar treats its property which is ostensibly for children with the utmost sincerity. The result is an overwhelming success the rare kind of film that were it a human being would be your best friend.
One could reasonably make the case that Toy Story 3 is the single best animated film ever made. I wouldn't outright agree with such grandiose claims but it's certainly not a baseless proposition that you'd be laughed at for bringing up. However with part three now tucked under Pixar's belt one could present an even better case that Toy Story is the best film trilogy ever made -- a claim I am far more comfortable signing on the dotted line for.
Going to Catalina for the day to talk to The Little Mermaid herself isn’t a bad gig if you can get it. Attending the DVD premiere of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning on the island resort, just off the Long Beach, Ca. coastline, I feel rather swept up in the environ.
Click here for all the photos of the Blue Carpet action!
Fairly untouched by commercialism, Catalina is the perfect atmosphere for the delightful prequel to the enchanting Little Mermaid story, in which we meet Ariel long before she becomes a land lubber with her Prince Eric. Her underwater life is disrupted when her mother unexpectedly dies and her father, King Triton, so distraught, bans music from Atlantica forever.
The real treat is speaking with singer/actress Jodi Benson, who has given voice to the iconic mermaid princess from the very beginning, as well as Samuel Wright, who voices the original Sebastian, loyal servant crab to King Triton.
“It’s been life changing for me and my family,” Benson tells me. “It’s truly a gift from God, straight from Heaven and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy this fantastic character. I’m proud of [Ariel] and very protective of her. She’s in my blood.”
Is there something about Ariel we might not know? “You know everything about her because she wears her heart on her sleeve,” Benson explains. “She’s innocent, she’s pure, she’s loving. She is true to herself. She’s honest and passionate about her music and her family. And there’s nothing new you are going to find out about her in Ariel’s Beginning because she bares it all.”
There is one thing about Sebastian you might not know: He has 8,000 brothers and sisters, Wright informs me. “He’s a crab. They are everywhere!”
For both Benson and Wright, The Little Mermaid and all that it represents goes beyond just the glitz of it all. “I just got a call on my voicemail yesterday asking if I’d come see a child dying of a brain tumor,” Benson says. “Her entire room is decorated in Ariel and she wanted to see Ariel before she goes to Heaven. I mean, as hard as that is, you have to do it. It’s beyond all this, the red carpet and stuff. It’s great but it’s really about these kids and how it makes an impact on these kids.”
Judging by the children attending the screening, Jodi Benson is right. Every young face I see is grinning from ear to ear. And oh, if you want to know a very small tidbit about the upcoming Toy Story 3, Jodi Bensons leaks out her Barbie will now have her own Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton. Say what?
“Michael Keaton plays my Ken, yeah. But I can’t tell you anything else. I would have to be dead! Truly, I cannot tell you. But I have to say it’s a pretty dang good script.”