Director: John Lasseter (TS), John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich (TS2)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen
Roger Ebert has been leading an online discussion among film buffs about the recent spate of 3-D movies. Is it just a gimmick to get people into the cinemas, or are films actually benefiting from the process?
Ebert’s position, which I broadly agreed with, was that it’s still fairly pointless and prone to being (mis)used as a gimmick. I didn’t mind watching Bolt and Up in 3-D — computer animated films do seem to benefit the most from the treatment, as they are modelled in 3D in the first place — but both were just as enjoyable to me in 2-D. And you still have to wear those stupid glasses.
That said, I think retrofitting 3-D onto Toy Story 2 actually made it a better picture. We may have found the first exception to Ebert’s Rule.
As you probably know, TS and TS2 are back in theatres in a new 3-D edition as a family double-feature (a great idea, with a wonderful little “intermission” in-between, including some new voicework, fun quizzes and so forth) to refresh people’s memories prior to the release of Toy Story 3 later this year.
Most people have seen TS and TS2 either “back in the day” or a hundred times on DVD since then, so I won’t go over the story so much as my impressions of getting re-acquainted with the films. Though I remembered the overall plot and themes (particularly of TS2, which as a collector myself resonated with me a bit more), the specifics of the tales had slipped my mind and it was a delight to find that neither film has become too dated. The jokes still work, the overarching theme of the eventual fate of childhood toys (and the power of friendship) are still moving, the performances shine and the “nods” to adults are perhaps even a bit more shocking since they’re the least-remembered aspect, at least for me.
Even better, since the film was created on 3D software in the first place, both benefit greatly from the 3D process, with TS2 coming off better mainly because of the improvement in the quality of the animation (and the greater range of locations).
The best part of both movies is that the details hold up very well. TS’s animation is definitely flatter, but no less lacking in facial expressions and strong vocal performances. There were a few moments in the 1995 original that reminded me how far computer animation has come — a few moments where you see a shot executed poorly and think “ooh, that’s a bit videogamey,” but a number of sequences actually improve with the addition of perspective, particularly any flying Buzz Lightyear does. Re-living all the specifics again, from the decor and manner of Andy’s house to the contrast of Sid’s, from the nightmarish mutant toys (which you’d never see a Pixar film do now!) to the extended “chase” seen of the moving truck (reprised in essence in TS2) is a lot of fun, particularly when you can compare how much more advanced Pixar’s skills were just four years later when TS2 came out. Compare Scud (Sid’s dog in TS) to Buster in TS2 (a character I’d completely forgotten about) and you’ll see the great strides in technology and art the company managed in that short span of time.
TS2’s wider scope really allows the 3D to shine. Emperor Zurg, the elevator shaft and Al’s Toy Barn literally never looked better, and the action sequences are just so much more “immersive” than before. Joan Cusack as Jessie really makes the second half work, though I wasn’t as fond of Kelsey Grammer’s over-erudite Stinky Pete the Prospector (not really in line with the look and nature of the character, and too recognisable IMHO). The other guest voices were great, including Jodi Benson as the Barbies (again, another detail I’d totally forgotten about!) and the “regulars” like Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head and Wallace Shawn as Rex. Hopefully as many of these as possible can be in TS3. I know I’ll be keenly watching for a rematch between the Red and Blue Rock Em Sock Em Robots …
There’s not a lot more to say. What Apple is to computers, Pixar is to computer animation — a clearly superior, reliably excellent product that may not always be the most popular or the most talked-about brand, but consistently sets the bar for story, detail, elegance and emotion. Go see it if you can, and if you miss it in theatres, let’s hope the Blu-Ray release comes with a few sets of special glasses.