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3D Provides Added Dimension to Already Terrific 'Toy' Stories

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Friday, Oct 2, 2009
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Toy Story

Director: John Lasseter
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Wayne Knight

(Pixar; Limited 3D Engagement: 2 Oct 2009; UK theatrical: 2 Oct 2009 (Limited 3D Engagement); 1995)

Toy Story 2

Director: John Lasseter
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Wayne Knight

(Pixar; Limited 3D Engagement: 2 Oct 2009; UK theatrical: 2 Oct 2009 (Limited 3D Engagement); 1999)

At this point in the critical game, does Pixar and its premiere franchise, Toy Story, really need defending? Do you really need another writer waxing in a wholly self indulgent manner about how John Lasster and his love of all things play produced the impetus for a literal cavalcade of creative genius? One would imagine that anyone under the age of 20 would have these movies memorized, repeated VHS to DVD viewings cementing an unquestionable love for Woody, Buzz, and their gang of kid-friendly tchotchkes. Now the latest hi-tech craze - the better than real life gimmick known as 3D - is being used to reintroduce the classics to a brand new under-aged demo. Frankly, it’s unclear whether these technological marvels need further scientific sprucing up. They were already so great to being with.


By now, the plots of both films are more or less rote. In Toy Story, Woody the cowboy grows concerned that his place as favored amusement will be usurped by clueless spaceman action figure Buzz Lightyear. While trying to one up each other, they both wind up in the clutches of the cruel next door neighbor, the vicious bully Sid. In Toy Story 2, Woody is stolen by a collectibles geek who wants a complete set of the Wild West character’s merchandise to sell to a museum in Japan. Buzz, along with a few of Andy’s other playthings, set out to rescue their friend, unaware of the dangers, and dilemmas, they will face along the way. Each movie is made with the utmost of care, both brimming with imagination, adventure, and sequences of show-stopping visual acumen. The first effort is quaint in its wistful nostalgia. The second amplified everything to new levels of emotional heft.


It’s hard to hate what Pixar did with these two films. Even in light of their far more accomplished masterpieces of late, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 contain the creative genes that spawned a very special family film empire. Without the experimentation and push to better their craft, without the various miracles uncovered in both approach and artistic accomplishment, there wouldn’t have been a Finding Nemo, a Wall-E, or an Incredibles. Pixar has always used its short films and features as a way of improving the platform, of defining new ways to render tricky real life elements like hair, fur, and human faces. Toy Story shows these initial baby steps, from Andy’s awkward façade to Sid’s scary demon like designs. While the toys are captured in near flawless finery, the rest of the narrative facets feel like works in progress.


Toy Story 2 is where it all came together, however, from the cartoon concept of people to the discovery of sympathy and strong emotional ties. The cowgirl doll Jessie gets a solo sequence (the song “When She Loved Me”) so touching, so unbelievably moving in its one special Summer loveliness that it almost threatens to overwhelm the entire movie. That’s the power of Pixar, the undeniable strength they’ve managed to tap into throughout the last decade or so. That’s why they’ve gone ten-for-ten in the masterpiece department. And yet it’s crucial to understand Toy Story and Toy Story 2‘s role in such reverence. Had they not been hits, had audiences believed that CG was just a fad that couldn’t completely kill off their love of hand drawn animation, we might not be having this discussion. Indeed, many studios have tried to duplicate Pixar’s opulent eye candy approach, but the results have been more Robots than Ratatouille.


That’s because movies like Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are about more than fanciful visual wizardry. This is a company that has always believed in character first, narrative second, and the spellbinding strategies of dimensional drawings last. That’s why this two week special engagement rerelease and the recent news that next year’s Toy Story 3 will be in 3D may give purists pause. After all, like anytime a classic gets fiddled with, adding something that was there are the start suggests a desire to second guess history. One thing needs to be clarified up front - nothing has been done to these films in general. No “new shots” have been inserted and old techniques haven’t been “updated” to match the undeniable smoothness and splendor of films like Up. No, all that’s been added is another dimension, a depth of field and sense of scope that definitely accents the novel nature of this presentation.


But the question remains - is it necessary? Some critics seem to think that any improvement, even with the complete support of the filmmakers themselves, is some form of cinematic sacrilege. Of course, arguments over original intent tend to fall away when the actual director is doctoring up their seemingly “imperfect” past project. But in the case of taking Toy Story and Toy Story 2 into the realm of 3D appears like a clever commercial ploy - and not much more. There is no way the realistic feel of the cinematic experience can be recreated on home video - there is no HD way to bring the Real system to your living room - and the two color approach is just as lame as it was when horrors were uncovered in a ‘50s wax museum. So the only way to experience this new Pixar ploy is to plop down your dosh for a double feature. Even with the wonderful Intermission material (complete with jokes, trivia, questions, and basic Disney brouhaha), the ends don’t necessarily justify the means.


That’s because the 3D is only a minor upgrade onto what are already considered cartoon marvels. Both films don’t need additional bells and whistles to work - they got by marvelously without the newfangled filmmaking stunt. Sure, this past Summer’s sensation Up introduced the world to Pixar plus another dimension and the results were resplendent, and when you first see Andy’s room, artifacts strewn about in a perfect tactile reflection of a real child’s playground, the added element works well. Somewhere long the line, however, the need to spruce up every old work of wonder may outweigh the true necessity for same. When viewed through such cynical prisms, the Toy Story double feature feels like a profit making plot. When passed through a more aesthetically pleasing set of sensors, the movies maintain their magical, mystical quality - technical tweaks be damned. 


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