Friday, July 9, 2010

A Few Criticisms About Toy Story 3

I was recently criticized for a few aspects of my Toy Story 3 review. I'd like to respond to those criticisms here, while also debunking some rampant falsities amongst positive reviews:

“[Toy Story 3] is great artistry as well as a commentary on our disposable culture where we not only throw away things we once loved, but people, too.”

If by great artistry you mean intricately crafted and rendered animation, I’ve no qualms whatsoever. The stuff where the gang is about to be incinerated is gorgeous and frightening, though the 3D noticeably dims the picture’s brightness. But if by artistry you’re referring to narrative or theme, we’ll have to part ways. For nearly the entire film (other than the 10 minute bookends), the film’s confined to low-level gags, obvious meet-cutes’ and goofily conceived sequences (Barbie and Ken, Potato Heads, and the alarm guard monkey take most of this fault). Shan’t we forget so many throwaway’s either, like Buzz turning Spanish or the banal villain Lotso, whose psychological background couldn’t be more tiresome (forsaken toy/person turns bitter/cynical/vindictive). In terms of a discourse related to one’s relationship to nostalgia and mortality, the movie does not feature Andy heavily enough to make the final scenes powerful, nor does it approach his realization that growing up requires sacrifice with much nuance. It’s not poorly done, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the gravitas of a film like, say, Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow, which approaches old age and familial sacrifice with verve, clarity, and strong emotional resonance. Toy Story 3 is a joke compared to McCarey’s film and the juxtaposition isn’t totally inappropriate, at least given the assertion you’ve made, since the latter film deals with disposing of loved ones, in this case one's own parents, not...walking, talking, living, breathing toys.

“It seems you are oblivious to the fact that not all movies are intended for the same audience, and thus work from different palettes...if I showed "The Third Man" to a small child, he would be bored to tears; if I showed "Blue Velvet" to a kid, I should be arrested for child abuse; but if we saw "Toy Story 3," we would be watching a good movie that we could both appreciate from our own perspectives. You're clearly reviewing the film for what it's not as opposed to what it is.”

The movies I see are made for only one audience…me. What I try to do in my criticisms is relay how a person intricately educated in the history of cinema will react to the movie. I’m not reviewing it for the kids or the masses. They can watch Nickelodeon or read Entertainment Weekly to see what their peers think or, for that matter, look up the bulk of the critical masses, who seem to have reviewed the film on about an eighth grade level of expectation. Fact is, I’m not (and I’d hope other aspiring critics over the age of 18 aren’t either) reviewing any movies for kids, so it matters not if a film would satisfy their unrefined palettes. In the review it might be courteous to say "kids will enjoy it," (though most kids will enjoy much of anything so long as it has humor they can relate to) but beyond such brevity, anything else detracts from a serious, critical reading.

You seem to subscribe to the Roger Ebert brand of criticism, which places all films on equal footing and judges them solely on how good they are at doing what they set out to do. But that’s a pretty populist, middlebrow approach, and thus he heralds distinctively middlebrow pap like Up in the Air, Slumdog Millionaire, or The Reader as great films. What’s more essential than this rather boring approach, is to unearth the social and political values inherent to the piece and begin from there. As I stated in my review, Toy Story 3 seems oblivious to its opening masculine male fantasy, which isn’t revealed to be a product of aged Andy’s playtime, but young Andy, merely an excuse to open with a gung-ho action set-piece, yet provide no context or subtext with which to understand the scene. Was it successful at being a fun action scene? I guess so, but that's a hollow analysis anyway you swing it and who really cares about the scene if the film can’t even situate it within the context of the violence introduced? It’s pure escapist pacification, not intellectual, nor even very intelligent. The whole film continues to work on approximately the same level.

“This is heavy material not only for a 'family' movie, but any movie.”

It’s this sort of notion that epitomizes the puerile state popular tastes now endorse. The idea that a G rated movie about animated toys serves as an apex for high art, that its anthropomorphication means anything outside of easy pathos and moderate entertainment is absurd and indicative of a palette that likely doesn't truly adore the aforementioned great films and prefers more easily accessible works, which are falsely and meaninglessly touted as "great" or "a knockout." Please, give me other, much more sophisticated animated films like Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox or Pixar’s own Ratatouille before trying to sell Toy Story 3 as being worthy of the highest level of praise.

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