Christopher Orr at The Atlantic:
As Charles de Gaulle dryly observed, the graveyards are full of indispensable men. One might add, in a related vein, that the attics are full of indispensable toys–once central players in a childhood fantasy, now upstaged, outgrown, and consigned to the corrugated purgatory of a cardboard box.
Such is the cruel afterlife facing the eponymous heroes of Toy Story 3 as the film opens. In the 11 years since the last installment of the Pixar franchise, their half-pint custodian, Andy, has grown up, and as he prepares to debark for college, retirement looms for Buzz Lightyear, Jesse, Rex, Ham, the Potato Heads, and the rest of their narrow Toyverse. (Though not Woody, who initially appears fated to accompany Andy to school as a childhood memento–a touching plan, but one that, if my own collegiate memories are any guide, would likely entail Woody being refashioned into a bong by sophomore year.)
Andy, however, makes the mistake of putting his attic-bound ex-playmates into a plastic garbage bag, and his mother makes the mistake of assuming this was not a mistake. After a brief flirtation with the sanitation department (it will not be the last), the gang finds themselves delivered to a local daycare, presided over by a Strawberry-scented pink bear named Lotso (short for “Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear“), who promises them an endless stretch of play-filled days with a rotating cast of kids who will never grow old. This Paradise is no sooner found than it is lost, though, and the bulk of the film delightedly toys (so to speak) with the conceits and conventions of the prison-break genre.
John Nolte at Big Hollywood:
What gives this refreshingly simple, perfectly paced, and absolutely flawless story the kind of emotional depth that creeps up and catches you off guard, is a richly complicated theme that explores the struggle between the loyalty and faith required to slug ones way through the ups and downs of any relationship and the universal need and understandable desire for constant validation and affection. The toys feel, for lack of a better term, jilted. Andy’s moved on, grown a little bored with them, and now they live in that awful in-between world filled with the artificial highs that come with any sign things might go back to the way they were and the unavoidable lows that are a natural part of the insecurity that comes with the fear of being discarded.
Essentially, “Toy Story 3” is about the consequences of disloyalty, of losing faith and giving up on an imperfect relationship to go off in search of something better. But what consequences! Through an immersion into wondrous detail that boggles the mind and Pixar’s uncanny ability to effortlessly and fully exploit any concept – in this case, a world where toys come to life when humans aren’t around – the adventure and, yes, the humanity makes for the best time you’ll have at the movies since, well, Pixar’s last go-round, “Up.”
And your kids will enjoy themselves even more. The action set-pieces rival the best of the Indiana Jones’ films and this is easily the funniest of the three thanks to a cast of well-rounded characters whose relationships continue to develop realistically and with honest warmth and clever humor.
Dana Stevens at Slate:
The idea-generating table at Pixar must be one lively and raucous place, because if there’s a toy-related visual gag conceivable by the human imagination, it’s somewhere in this movie. Shot after shot bursts with whimsical weirdos popping out of boxes and scuttling atop shelves: There’s a Fisher Price rolling telephone who communicates only by ringing up his interlocutor. A monster robot guy who toggles in between two expressions—happy and mean—by pounding his own head. A lederhosen-clad hedgehog (hilariously voiced by Timothy Dalton) who fancies himself a gifted thespian. And a brilliant long-form gag that raises the ontological question: In what feature of a Mr. Potato Head (voiced by Don Rickles) does the spud’s spiritual essence reside? But somehow, the profusion of characters, jokes, and action sequences never feels disorienting or excessive. Through it all, the toys’ motivation remains simple and crystal-clear: They must get back home to the boy who, grown up or not, still loves them. As for that last sequence after they do—hold up. I need a moment.
Go ahead and sneer it: Is there anything wrong with Toy Story 3? Well, the addition of 3-D to the franchise’s universe does seem like a move motivated more by marketing than artistic necessity (which was also the case, I thought, with Up). The depth effect looks crisp enough, but with a couple of somewhat gimmicky exceptions, it rarely gets used. (That weakness is more than overcome in Day & Night, a wordless short that precedes the movie and is the most inventive use of animated 3-D I’ve ever seen.) And I guess—racking my brains here—that a few of the newly introduced characters are a little underwritten. (Though Ken is a marvel—one of the most complex characters, animated or otherwise, to appear on screens this year.)
Anyway, nitpicking a movie this abundantly stocked with wonderments feels like an act of ingratitude. Toy Story 3 is a near-perfect piece of popular entertainment, a children’s classic that will be watched and loved when my daughter’s (and one day, her daughter’s) now-beloved toys are gathering dust in a basement. Shit—now I’m crying again.
Jonah Lehrer at Wired:
Screenwriter William Goldman once famously declared that the most important fact of life in Hollywood is that “nobody knows anything.” It was his way of describing a reality that continues to haunt the movie business: Studio executives have no idea which pictures will make money.
Unless, of course, those pictures are made by Pixar Animation Studios. Since 1995, when the first Toy Story was released, Pixar has made nine films, and every one has been a smashing success.
Pixar’s secret? Its unusual creative process. Most of the time, a studio assembles a cast of freelance professionals to work on a single project and cuts them loose when the picture is done. At Pixar, a staff of writers, directors, animators, and technicians move from project to project. As a result, the studio has built a team of moviemakers who know and trust one another in ways unimaginable on most sets.
Which explains how they can handle the constant critiques that are at the heart of Pixar’s relentless process. Animation days at the studio all begin the same way: The animators and director gather in a small screening room filled with comfy couches. They eat Cap’n Crunch and drink coffee. Then the team begins analyzing the few seconds of film animated the day before, as they ruthlessly “shred” each frame. Even the most junior staffers are encouraged to join in.
The upper echelons also subject themselves to megadoses of healthy criticism. Every few months, the director of each Pixar film meets with the brain trust, a group of senior creative staff. The purpose of the meeting is to offer comments on the work in progress, and that can lead to some major revisions. “It’s important that nobody gets mad at you for screwing up,” says Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3. “We know screwups are an essential part of making something good. That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible.”
The proof is in the product. The average international gross per Pixar film is more than $550 million, and the cartoons are critical darlings—the studio has collected 24 Academy Awards. Nobody in Hollywood knows anything. Pixar seems to know everything.
Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:
But Pixar’s specialness must come from something on top of that omnipotence. After all, there are plenty of animated movies that were horrible (the last one I saw was Shrek 3). What’s more, the novel provides authors with similar omnipotence, and without naming names, let us merely agree that some novelists are downright bad. In short, control is not the only key to narrative brilliance.
I used to rationalize Pixar’s otherworldly consistency by thinking the time and resources needed to produce a CGI picture were so overwhelming, one had to aim for perfection. But that’s an incomplete answer, too. The first Toy Story movie was completed on a $30 million budget with a staff of 110, according to Wikipedia, and it spearheaded an entire genre. Kevin Costner’s Waterworld was released the same year on a $175 million budget, and it spearheaded a lot of jokes about Waterworld.
Maybe looking for the secret to Pixar’s sauce is pointless. They make beautiful, familiar, old-fashioned stories about relationships that happen to use monsters, toys and fish for characters, and they do it almost perfectly time every time because … well, they’ve just figured out how to do it.
John Tyler at Cinema Blend:
Until a few hours ago, Toy Story 3 had a 100% fresh rating on the review compiler Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a feat almost never accomplished by modern movies. The few other films to carry the 100% fresh rating all pre-date the modern era or they were reviewed by a small handful of critics, usually fewer than forty or fifty. Yet with more than 130 reviews in, Toy Story 3 had a 100% fresh rating. Enter two assholes.
Their names are Armond White and Cole Smithey, and they’re the only two critics in the world who hate Toy Story 3. Thanks to them, and only them, Toy Story 3 now has a 99% fresh rating on RT. And they’re wrong. Flat out wrong.
Armond attempts to justify his hatred by accusing you, and everyone else who loves the Toy Story movies of being brainwashed. He slanders Toy Story 3 as being one big advertisement, overwhelmed by ridiculous amounts of product placement. This actually isn’t an opinion, it’s an accusation, and it’s the entire point of his review. One problem: It’s untrue.
White would have you believe that simply using a Barbie doll in your movie means you’ve sold out to some corporation. But if that were what Pixar was doing, they’d have used the latest Barbie and decked her out in all the latest outfits to dazzle viewers into running out and buying one. But this Barbie is frumpy, her wardrobe is outdated, and she’s clearly trapped in the 80s. Instead what Toy Story has done, and has always done, is use something specific. They could have thrown in some random Barbie-like doll, but you’d have been distracted by it and left wondering why they didn’t use the real thing. Instead they use Barbie and in the process make an instant connection between your memories of playing with that specific toy and what’s going on in the film. It’s your window into their world. It’s not product-placement, it’s good storytelling.
Armond White’s review is full of hatred, unfounded accusations, and condescension. It rails against anything which is popular and begs people to watch obscure movies instead, just because they’re obscure. He actually thinks Small Soldiers is better than anything Pixar has to offer, and that’s not just a bad opinion, it’s insanity.
A look back at Armond’s past reviews reveals that he’s not someone who should be allowed to review movies. He’s more a negative film critic stereotype than an actual reviewer. He’s the kind of guy that’s getting fired from newspapers in droves, and no one seems to miss them. This is a man who hated Avatar and Up in the Air, but loved The Losers and From Paris With Love. His review record indicates that he’s a contrarian. If everyone else likes it, he hates it. If everyone else hates it, he likes it. If it’s an obscure indie movie nobody cares about, he’s given it a positive review. If it’s a Hollywood blockbuster which most people enjoyed, he thinks it represents the end of modern cinema. This is not someone that anyone should listen to.
Cole Smithey’s review (which I refuse to link to) is slightly more reasonable, but perhaps that’s only because he barely managed to write three paragraphs about the film. His website proclaims him “The Smartest Film Critic in the World”, yet he doesn’t seem to have anything to say. He’s writing one of the only negative reviews of one of the most universally loved movies of all time, yet he can barely come up with three small paragraphs to justify his position. Scratch that, two paragraphs. One of them is devoted entirely to plot synopsis. He seems less interested in the film than he is in ancillary issues. He spends most of his review complaining about the film’s rating, an issue to take up with the MPAA and no fault of Toy Story 3’s. The closest he comes to a real criticism is in complaining about how much money the movie cost to make.
Yet Cole Smithey loves Marmaduke of all things and didn’t seem to be bothered by its bloated budget. And he loves Shrek Forever After, which cost as much to make as Toy Story 3 but had less to say. He managed four paragraphs about that one. Look through his resume and you’ll find yourself asking this question: Did Cole Smithey really hate Toy Story 3, or did he like the traffic hating it would bring to his website? He is, after all, the Smartest Film Critic in the World.