Blu-ray Review: TOY STORY 3

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
November 2nd, 2010

Blu-ray Rating: 5/5

Writers: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Michael Arndt
Director: Lee Unkrich
Voice Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger
Distributor: Disney

Much time and energy is spent discussing the merits of sequels and movie franchises. Strangely and often, that discussion comes prior to anyone ever having seen the sequel. Yet time and again, moviegoers are treated to cases such as that of TOY STORY 2, a film many would argue bested the first film. Yet TOY STORY 3, coming eleven years after the last entry in the series, was met with the standard skepticism. Hopefully now, after the film's huge theatrical success and transition to home video, the skeptics see that TOY STORY 3 again outshines its predecessor and is, in fact, so good it makes one wonder if TOY STORY wasn't planned as a trilogy from the very beginning.

Andy is packing up, getting ready to leave for college. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang must quickly accept that they will soon be going into attic. Through a mild misunderstanding, though, they end up on the curb and nearly in a trash truck. Fortunately, they are able to escape and make their way to Sunnyside Day Care Center, where they expect to find an entire sea of playtime-loving children. At first, the pack feels accepted into the Sunnyside club which is led by an old, wise, fluffy patriarch named Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty). However, after Woody decides to make his own way back to Andy, the remaining toys quickly realize they will be trapped in the toddler room where toys are abused in manners not suited for everyday discussion. Thus begins a series of quests and adventures wherein the toys attempt to bring down Lotso and his cohorts and escape Sunnyside for good.

After an exhilarating, Western-inspired opening, TOY STORY 3 makes its main theme well known via a series of home videos showing Andy growing up, playing with his toys, followed by the reveal that he is now 17, leaving for college and being forced by his mother to decide what to do with the toys with which he no longer plays. The film is all about change and transition. Andy is transitioning into adulthood, the toys must accept the change in their surroundings and they very quickly realize they want things to change at Sunnyside. While this emphasis on a theme that is inherently scary and unsettling may make it seem like TOY STORY 3 is a heavy film (and at times it is - it includes the most thematically adult scene contained in an animated film in quite some time) don't think for a second that it isn't hilarious. It packs in jokes in every nook and cranny. There's a terrific sense of adventure in the prison-break inspired Sunnyside scenes that really show off the incredible advances in technology at the creative team's disposal.

At this point, it seems moot to even mention the top-notch animation and voice work in a Pixar film, it's no different here. Through all of the wonder and spectacle present in TOY STORY 3, though, it's nothing without its heart. So completely does it bring the emotional core started in TOY STORY full circle that it seems unfair to simply gauge this film as better or worse than TOY STORY or TOY STORY 2. No, instead it's so thoroughly well-rounded and tied to its predecessors while still managing to introduce new characters and themes effortlessly, it's only fair to forget comparisons and call this a perfect cap to a wholly spectacular trilogy.

Both the video presentation and the audio presentation by way of a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track are very easily summed up as reference quality. In terms of picture and sound quality, this Blu-ray is stunning. The exhaustive special features begin on the first disc. First up is the indescribable but enchanting short DAY & NIGHT that accompanied TOY STORY 3 in theaters. Next is Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science of Adventure, a short education featurette about space travel produced in cooperation with NASA. Toys! follows and is a brief discussion of the work put into designing so many new characters and updating existing ones.

Disc 2 contains an impressive number of features and is divided into four sections. The first section is called "Family Play" and beings with The Gangs All Here, a sweet piece on bringing back the core actors (including a grown-up John Morris as Andy), recasting Slinky Dog due to Jim Varney's untimely and tragic passing, and casting the film's new characters. Goodbye Andy gives the animators a chance to talk about the challenges of animating human characters and specifically focuses on the film's emotionally challenging ending. The film's creative team discusses the irony of creating believable toys that end up becoming real toys as film tie-ins in the featurette Accidental Toymakers. Time is also spent focusing on a small company, Thinkway Toys, that took on the toy-making duties for the first film when all the major companies turned Pixar down. In A Toy's Eye View: Creating A Whole New Land, Disney theme park designers and Pixar head-honchos discuss the challenge of bringing Pixar to Disney properties across the world. Finally, the Epilogue that plays during the film's closing credits is presented fullscreen and distraction free.

The next section, "Film Fans,"  is geared towards those interested in the creative process. This is where the films two commentary tracks are stored. The first, called Cine-Explore, invites viewers to listen to director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson chat about all aspects of the creation of TOY STORY 3 while being treated to storyboards, animatics, and behind-the-scenes photos on screen at various points. It's highly informative and always entertaining but if one wants even more anecdotes and insight into the films countless easter eggs, several members of the creative teams join forces for Beyond The Toybox: An Alternative Commentary Track Featuring Leads From Story, Tech, Art and Animation. The featurettes in this section begin with Roundin' Up A Western Opening, where the film's action-packed opening scenes are discussed from their original, more Leone-esque Woody and Buzz showdown origin ideas to their current form. Bonnie's Playtime: A Story Roundtable has Unkrich and several members of his creative team discussing one particular scene in the movie and the unique challenges the single, short sequence brought to the team. Storyboards from scrapped ideas are shown.

Beginnings: Setting A Story In Motion is by far the most interesting feature and one that reminds us why we have special features in the first place. It's an animated monologue by screenwriter Michael Arndt discussing the creative process of building a screenplay from scratch. He does this by talking about the various necessary elements of the screenplay and shows those elements in TOY STORY, FINDING NEMO, and THE INCREDIBLES. Fascinating stuff. Even if one thinks she may have an idea of how many people are involved in an animated film, Life Of A Shot may make one think again. Animators, special effects crew, storyboard artists, the director's assistant, and even the Pixar studio cafe chef are all given a few seconds to really show their impact on just a few seconds of film. Making Of Day & Night is a promotional piece about the short found on the first disc. Paths To Pixar: Editorial is a look into the editorial department that worked on the film, their roles in bringing the story to life and how a job in the editorial department can lead to other jobs at the studio. Finally, there are three Studio Stories, animated shorts telling behind-the-scenes stories of daily life at the studio.

"Games And Activities" contains Toy Story Trivia Dash an interactive, 2-player (via remote or phone) trivia game aimed at the kiddos. The final section is called "Publicity" and begins with Grab Bag, an assortment of various bumpers and other theater tie-ins that lead up to the release of TOY STORY 3. Ken's Dating Tips are hilarious dating tips from Ken that appear to have played as a promotion during some TV program. There are then two Lots-o'-Huggin' bear commercials. You may remember these as viral marketing from YouTube, commercials for the TOY STORY 3 star character that looked like they were pulled off an old VHS, captured by accident in the '80s. A Japanese version is included as is a brief behind-the-scene featurette. The remainder of this section contains a comprehensive presentation of all teasers and trailers for the film.

As a cap to the series, one could ask nothing more of TOY STORY 3. It is so emotionally rich and nearly-pitch-perfect in its comedic delivery it's easy to call it one of Pixar's very best films. By the time the ending rolls around, the weight of three films worth of adventure is clear. These characters are moving on and we must move on too. Fortunately, we can relive these adventures, the entire grand trilogy, at home and as a Blu-ray package TOY STORY 3 is everything the technology has always promised to be. Reference quality picture and sound and a daunting number of well-proudce mostly fluff-free features come together to make this a Blu-ray set worthy of the highest recommendation.

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