Toy Story 3 tugged at my heart strings like it did for most viewers. If you haven’t seen it, prepare for spoilers. It hit so many themes that adults can relate to: feeling obsolete due to layoffs, saying farewell to their childhood or any other phase of their lives, recalling simpler times when the economy and finances didn’t matter and the imagination took precedence. These only name a few. Facing their doom, Woody, Buzz and the gang embrace ‘the end’ with such dignity, it was inspiring. And this is a film that’s marketed for children, and was fully entertaining and appropriate for young audiences.
I saw “Toy Story 3” in theaters with an 8-year-old, trying desperately to hide my tears because the cause was complex. I think the theme of this film is hope, and having lived through hard economic times, American adults can take a small bit of unexpected solace in this family film. I didn’t necessarily think it should win best picture tonight at the Oscars, but having given it more thought, perhaps it should.
Here’s an NPR interview on Toy Story 3 and a look at one movie reviewer’s opinion.
Why Toy Story 3 should win best picture
By Christopher Kelly
I started crying about 10 minutes before the end of “Toy Story 3,” and the tears did not relent until well after the closing credits had finished rolling.
Buzz Lightyear, Woody and Jesse had escaped the clutches of Lotso, “an evil bear who smells of strawberries,” the head of a band of abandoned toys at a daycare center. They make their way home, only to end up back at square one: Their beloved friend Andy is leaving for college and only plans to take Woody with him. The rest of the toys are going to have to spend the rest of their days in a dark, musty attic.
As these tender, patient final scenes played out, and Andy found a way to give his toys a new life, my tears turned into quietly heaving sobs. Perhaps it was because I had made my own journey with the toys of “Toy Story,” from youth into adulthood (the first film in the trilogy opened in 1995 when I was in college), and I wasn’t quite ready to bid them farewell.
Perhaps I was just being my nostalgic for the toys of my own youth — and all of the innocence and hopefulness they symbolize. Based on the nose blowing and heavy sighing around me, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one having such an overwhelming reaction to the film.
Eight months later, “Toy Story 3” is deservedly in the mix for the Best Picture Oscar, which will be handed out at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood Sunday night. Yet much like 2009’s equally heartbreaking “Up,” also by the animation studio Pixar, the film is almost certain to lose the top prize and instead be handed a consolation award, the Best Animated Film Oscar. Meanwhile, this year’s Oscar race has come down to two titles — “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech” — that hardly approach the depth of feeling, the complexity of themes and the sheer entertainment value of “Toy Story 3.”
The arguments against Woody, Buzz and company — that “Toy Story 3” is just a kid’s movie; that it’s conjured up entirely inside of a computer — simply no longer hold water. If this is not the year to honor the Pixar Animation Studio, which has pulled off this astonishing hat trick before, with “Up,” “Wall-E,” “Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo,” then when?
How many Best Animated Film Oscars can Pixar win before the Academy stops ghettoizing its truly universal, for-all-ages achievements?
None of this is to diminish the achievements of David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” a fast-paced, razor-sharp anatomy of the founding of Facebook, and Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech,” a warm-hearted, quietly inspiring biopic about Britain’s King George VI and his struggles with a speech impediment.
But they are familiar movies, and fundamentally safe ones. “The Social Network” tells a story of megalomania and greed in the pursuit of a new American business ideal — the latest in a long line of titles that includes “Citizen Kane,” “Giant” and “There Will Be Blood.” “The King’s Speech,” meanwhile, capitalizes on our collective yearning for steady moral leadership in uncertain times, and the age-old pleasure of watching an unlikely hero triumph over insurmountable odds.
Both have much to say about the nature of friendship and loyalty, and what it means to be honorable when you’re surrounded by scoundrels. But “Toy Story” covers many of these same themes, with wit and economy and charm. And more than any of the other nine films nominated for Best Picture, including the quicksilver nature epic “127 Hours,” the progressive family values comedy-drama “The Kids Are All Right,” and the ballet horror flick “Black Swan,” it pushes the art form into a brave new direction.
Certainly no one could have imagined, just 15 or 20 years ago, that animated filmmaking would become the dominant new art form of the 21st century. Or that movies ostensibly made for children would speak so poignantly and intelligently to adult viewers.
Part of what’s going on here, of course, can be chalked up to a wrongheaded bias among so many adults who think works that traffic in simple language and accessible themes can’t possibly be “serious” or “important.” In 1998, the Modern Library famously conducted a poll of critics and scholars about the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century. The list was cluttered with dense, difficult works like “Ulysses,” “Lolita” and “The Sound and the Fury.” Astonishingly, Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” — a plainspoken, deeply resonant coming-of-age story that you can’t escape the eighth grade without reading — didn’t even earn a mention.
Academy voters are more egregiously guilty of this short-sightedness. In 1940, “The Wizard of Oz” won only two Oscars, for Best Song and Best Score. (It was even bested in the Best Visual Effects category, by the long-forgotten “The Rains Came.”) In 1983, Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” — for my money, the greatest children’s movie ever made, one that encapsulates all of our childhood fantasies of the unknown and all of our anxieties about growing up — was beaten out for Best Picture by Richard Attenborough’s starched, proper and mostly interminable biopic “Gandhi.”
The bigger issue at work against “Toy Story 3,” though, is the animated factor — and the unavoidable truth that most actors (who make up the largest portion of the Academy) simply don’t want to face. Whether they like it or not, the future of cinema is going to be digital; the true innovations and surprises are going to happen inside of a computer.
Sure, there’s no replacing the pure shock waves that can be set off by an unexpected, unforgettable performance by a flesh-and-blood performer — Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men, for instance, or Natalie Portman this year in “Black Swan.” But we also need to pay heed to the achievements of animators and digital effects artists, and the sheer elasticity and invention of what they’ve been putting on screen in recent years.
(And lest you think the prejudice just centers on kiddie flicks: Arguably this year’s biggest Oscar snub was Christopher Nolan’s failutre to earn a Best Director nomination for “Inception.” On some level, Academy voters seem to fear movies in which the effects are bigger stars than Leonardo DiCaprio or Marion Cottillard.)
The greatest irony of all this: In terms of pure storytelling, “Toy Story 3” may be the most old-fashioned movie up for the big prize. Indeed, even more than the final 10 minutes, the sequence that sticks with me most in the film is the one where we learn the dark and tortured back story of Lotso (ingeniously voiced by Ned Beatty). This ruthless heavy was once a very literal softie, until his owner accidentally left him behind at a rest stop and then thoughtlessly replaced him with another Lotso bear.
Ardnt and the Pixar team
My guess is that the Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Michael Arndt, has gobbled up his fair share of Victorian novels, with their late-breaking revelations about seemingly one-dimensional villains. He employs some of the oldest tricks in the screenwriter handbook, but by placing those narrative tropes in the service of a group of animated toys — and then investing the toys with unabashedly deep emotion — Arndt and the Pixar team make it all feel completely new and original.
The result is something that no other American film achieved as fully in 2010. To borrow the title of another youth-oriented, effects-driven movie that never got the Oscar love it deserved, “Toy Story 3” perfected the art of taking us back to the future.