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Everything Old Is New Again: Toy Story 3 Recycles Pop Culture

June 21, 2010
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To celebrate Fathers Day this past Sunday, I took my three kids out to see Toy Story 3 on its opening weekend. Oddly enough, the film was creepily devoid of fathers or adult men of any sort. Which isn’t a major issue, since the stars were, of course, the toys.

I’ve been a Pixar fan since the first Toy Story movie, which I bought at full price when it came out on VHS. Unlike most Disney movies (Pixar wasn’t acquired by Disney until 2006) I’ve always found Pixar films to be entertaining for adults as well as children, with original stories that didn’t tarnish my memories of the source material (I’m not a big fan of what Disney did with Pooh, for example).

Probably the most entertaining part of the Toy Story franchise, from this adult’s perspective, has been seeing old friends from my youth reappear as (and played by) character actors. The little green soldiers (with their comical hop/walk because of the plastic base their feet are stuck to), the Slinky dog, the Mr. Microphone, the ubiquitous Barrel O’ Monkeys. And of course Mr. Potato Head, whose scene stealing is due as much to the comic possibilities of a character with interchangeable face parts and and a rear trap door as to Don Rickles’ deadpan delivery.

I have to say that Toy Story 3 was a bit less thrilling for me on this count. Maybe Disney didn’t want to pay a lot more in royalties, or maybe they’d already mined the most popular toys of the 60s and 70s, or maybe those of us who remember toys of that era are just too darned old to be taking their kids to the movies anymore. So while Ned Beatty’s ersatz Care Bear made for a great villain-disguised-as-a-kindly-old-man (a role very similar to that of the Prospector in TS2), I got more of a thrill from bit parts like the Fisher Price Chatter Telephone, and of course the cymbal-clapping monkey.

I did enjoy the way Pixar handled Ken. I felt Barbie, who didn’t appear until TS2 (I imagine Mattel execs were kicking themselves after seeing other toy sales jump following the original movie), was presented fairly respectfully… chirpy but not dumb, outgoing and helpful if a bit materialistic. Similarly, Ken (perfect painted hair and all) is a dandy who loves his clothes and his dream house but nevertheless has the hots for his soul mate Barbie, whose love turns him from the dark side. I guess I liked that they didn’t go for the cheap “Ken is so gay” laughs but instead imbued his character with some swishy nuance.

And while it was a very slender non-speaking role indeed, I was thrilled to see a stuffed Totoro, clearly an homage to the great Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, some of whose films have been distributed in the states by Disney (my favorite being Kiki’s Delivery Service).

While there may not have been a lot of new old toys on display, there was still plenty for the boomer and space age generations to enjoy. I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the packed theater to laugh at the homages to old prison-break movies like Cool Hand Luke, with Buzz playing Boss Carr, and “the box” being the sand box (“I’m pretty sure those weren’t Lincoln Logs…”). I had to explain to my kids later on what that was about; they finally understood when I told them that Cool Hand Luke was the movie with the oft-parodied line “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

And I suspect anyone past the age of eight who’s ever had to part with a beloved toy that would never be played with again would be moved by the way the story ends.

About the only thing that didn’t work for me was the 3D. Oh, it didn’t hurt my eyes or give me a headache (I made sure to follow some advice I’d read to avoid trying to look at the out-of-focus parts of the image). But it also didn’t add anything to the story; midway through I’d actually forgotten I was watching a 3D movie. I doubt I’ll spring for the extra bucks again.

cross-posted at In love but not at peace

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2010 2:58 pm

    While there may not have been a lot of new old toys on display, there was still plenty for the boomer and space age generations to enjoy. I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the packed theater to laugh at the homages to old prison-break movies like Cool Hand Luke, with Buzz playing Boss Carr, and “the box” being the sand box (“I’m pretty sure those weren’t Lincoln Logs…”). I had to explain to my kids later on what that was about; they finally understood when I told them that Cool Hand Luke was the movie with the oft-parodied line “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

    It’s a shame that more films don’t pay homage (rather than parody) the brilliance that is Cool Hand Luke. In talking to folks about films – ones who aren’t really buffs – it weird that their knowledge of iconic film dialog mostly comes by way of Disney distributed films and cartoons! “Say hello to my little friend!” is another one of those lines that most folks do not realize doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but came from a – wait for it – DE PALMA FILM.

  2. June 21, 2010 3:18 pm

    Snarky’s, only you could manage to sneak a De Palma reference so cleanly into a post about a Disney film 🙂

  3. June 21, 2010 4:12 pm

    Yay! Tell me what I’ve won!

  4. June 21, 2010 7:28 pm

    I loved this movie; granted I love all of the Pixar movies, but the Toy Story franchise is super special to me. I guess a large part of it is that I’ve held onto my attachment to the toys I had growing up (especially those McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys…you know, before they got all crappy?), and that I still have a slew of stuffed animals who I still ascribe personalities to (my treasure is Taddy, one of the tie-ins to Hook that I got for Christmas the year the movie came out).

    I thought they dealt with the missing toys fairly well, but I…well…missed them. I did love the overarching theme with the toys: the family stays together. That’s one of the things that Pixar does well, I think; good families stick by each other, whether they’re bonded by blood (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles) or choice/happenstance (the Toy Storys, Monsters, Inc.). Of course, this concept led to some of the most traumatizing/tear-inducing scenes in the movie (which I won’t spoil, but…damn).

    What I love about Pixar films in general is that they totally work on two levels, and allow adults to help educate their children about pop culture (like the CHL references in this, or–my personal favorite– Mr. Incredible referring to Buddy,aka Syndrome, as “Brodie” at the beginning of The Incredibles.. This is brilliant because Buddy was voiced by my boo Jason Lee, who played Brodie Bruce in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. And now I’ll hush.). Also, I was in a theatre full of people my age and older on opening night, and, yeah, there were some younger kids there, but it was mostly a bunch of folks who grew up with these movies and characters getting to say goodbye to what was an integral part of their development. Or at least it felt that way to me.

    Also, that ending makes me cry when I think about it. Not because it’s sad, but…yeah.

    I thought the 3D was unnecessary, especially when compared to Up, which utilized the technology perfectly. And jeez, talk about a movie making me cry…. ugh, I gotta go find tissues.

  5. June 21, 2010 9:44 pm

    @eieioj, thanks so much for the comments! That your experience was so similar to mine made me smile. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who got teary-eyed at those places where I was supposed to get teary-eyed. I still feel manipulated, but at least I don’t feel stupid 🙂

    And I can’t believe I missed the Brodie reference. Clearly I need to watch the Incredibles some more. I can almost hear Buddy saying “I was an ARTIST!”

    A slight digression; it’s not a Pixar film, but have you ever seen Sky High? I guess I like kid movies the way Snarky’s likes YA fiction 🙂

  6. June 21, 2010 9:47 pm

    @Snarky’s… you’ve won dinner for two! (sound of victory)

  7. June 21, 2010 11:35 pm

    Omg! That is the sweetest sound on the planet.

  8. June 22, 2010 10:47 am

    @redlami: I LOVE Sky High! I watched it several years ago with a couple of kids that I was taking care of; I thought “Ugh…Disney crap” but I really, really enjoyed it. I have an unhealthy love of kid’s movies, and I’m fairly certain that I’m not going to outgrow that anytime soon.

  9. June 28, 2010 3:12 am

    hmmm i think i’ll go see this movie now. i watched Toy Story so many times when i was younger that I got tired of it so i was cynical.. But i’m starting to come around 🙂

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  1. Everything Old Is New Again: Toy Story 3 « In love but not at peace

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