Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Critic's Critic: Toy Story 3

Over the weekend I had the chance to watch Toy Story 3 with some friends for my birthday. Easily the best film of the year, and probably Pixar's best film to date. But I'm not here to review Toy Story 3 as much as I am here to review another review of Toy Story 3.

The victim of this week's Critic's Critic is none other than Roger Ebert. When I first came up with the grand plan to rip on movie critics, I thought I would try my best to stay away from Roger Ebert, because this man has cred. More cred then I will have in my lifetime. He knows how to review films.

I'm not an Ebert hater by any stretch of the imagination. I have a degree in film, and we spent a good amount of time studying Ebert and his film critiques and how he can deconstruct each film he sees into it's building blocks, and then reassemble them to make his arguments. There is a reason he is the Wolverine in his chosen field (he is the best at what he does). Or at least he used to be.

However, in the past year his reviews have gone from insightful critique, to out right trolling. I'm not even going to mention his tirade about "video games as art" (although I just did). Even his Sex and the City II review, although I agree that movie was consumerism garbage, seemed like a bitter old man just sick of it all.

I read his Toy Story 3 review before I saw the movie. I actually usually try to avoid this, because if the review is accurate, as I watch the movie the flaws seem even more glaring. However, as I watched the latest Toy Story, with Ebert's comments swirling in the back of my head, I couldn't help but think, "he's wrong, wrong, wrong."

You don't have to go far into his review to find the first inaccuracy (from rogerebert.com, Chicago Sun Times):

"The first two 'Toy Story' movies centered on the relationship between a boy and his toys. In Disney/Pixar's 'Toy Story 3,' Andy has grown to college age and the story leaves the toys pretty much on their own. In a third act where they find themselves fighting for life on a conveyor belt to a garbage incinerator, we fear it could be renamed 'Toy Story Triage."

Instantly, Ebert has missed the point and also failed to recall the previous two films accurately. The human/toy relationship scenes have always bookended the Toy Story films, with the Toys on some madcap adventure through the middle of the film. Andy plays a much bigger part in this film then any of the previous adventures. In fact, the use of human characters was sparsely used in the first film because back then, animating human characters (and making them look realistic) was a very difficult task. Leaving them out as much as possible was the best course of action.

For the first time in Toy Story the human characters are given actual emotion and a story outside of moving along the action so the Toys can get into more trouble. This entire film is about the human and toy dynamic and how you can't forget things that made you who you are, but at the same time you have to move on with your own life. The scenes between Andy and the Toys are more poignant than any scene from previous Toy Story films.

"What with one thing and another, the other toys find themselves at the day-care center, which they think they'll like, because there will be plenty of kids to play with them all day long. There seems to be relatively little grieving about the loss of Andy's affections; he did, after all, sentence them to a toy box for years, and toys by nature are self-centered and want to be played with."

I do agree with his assessment that Toys in this universe are self centered, because they all fight to be the favorite. The first Toy Story is actually a fairly dark tale, where Woody is a jealous and vengeful toy, that at one point tries to kill Buzz to be Andy's favorite, then only tries to save Buzz so the other toys won't hate him, not to redeem himself. That plot point has been mostly forgotten by now with all the "You Got a Friend in Me" songs that play every five seconds, but Woody was actually the antagonist in the first film.

" If you ask me, Barbie (Jodi Benson) is anorexic, and Ken (Michael Keaton) is gay, but nobody in the movie knows this, so I'm just sayin'."

This is the kind of thing I'm talking about in new Ebert articles that just seem out of place. It's the kind of sentence you would read on a blog (like this one!) or a message board, and it also reeks with an old man being out of touch. Ken is obviously meant to be a homosexual. It isn't even really hinted about. There are jokes made about his effeminate mannerisms, and his love for clothing and cross dressing. The only thing keeping him anywhere in the realm of being "straight" is that he is head over heels in love with Barbie. But if you think about it, toys don't really have a gender. Ken, we all know, has no genitalia, so really, by being in love with another toy of the same type as himself, by definition, makes him a homosexual. The Buzz and Jessie or Woody and Bo Peep would, I suppose, be considered "straight" relationships because they are different types (genders) of toys.

Regardless, Ebert threw that sentence in there to make him seem "hip" by being able to identify a homosexual stereotype. Way to go. There is also nothing to suggest Barbie is anorexic, other then the plastic body Mattel gave her.

"Man, the toys have a dangerous time of it after they eventually find themselves at a garbage collection center. You have no idea what garbage has to go through before becoming landfill, and even an Indiana Jones toy would have trouble surviving the rotating blades. There is a happy ending, of course, but I suspect these toys may be traumatized for eternity."

It makes me think he slept through this part of the film and had someone tell him about it later. I won't spoil it, but this is the part of the film that turns Toy Story 3 from a good film to a great film. Cartoon characters deal with the issue of mortality. It's like if Bugs Bunny was in Apocalypse Now. Alright maybe not that dramatic, but it deals with some pretty harsh realities.

Also it has the best (and most literal) use of Deus ex Machina I ever seen in a film.

"This is a jolly, slapstick comedy, lacking the almost eerie humanity that infused the earlier 'Toy Story' sagas, and happier with action and jokes than with characters and emotions. But hey, what can you expect from a movie named 'Toy Story 3,' especially with the humans mostly offstage? I expect its target audience will love it, and at the box office, it may take right up where "How to Train Your Dragon" left off. Just don't get me started about the 3-D."

Most of this I already covered, but it's like we watched two different films. This film has more humanity across the board, not just from the humans, but from the toys as well. Andy isn't the only human in this world. His mother, sister, and more importantly a new human girl named Bonnie are very integral and important parts of the overall narrative.

I am a fan of most Pixar films, I don't deny a possible bias, but I've never been a huge Toy Story fan. I actually groaned at the announcement of a third one. But this film could stand on its own. The first two could be direct-to-DVD prequels compared to this one. This is Pixar at the top of their game. They have matured and grown in the same way as Andy, and this film is a testament to that fact.

As for Ebert, I will always respect him as a movie critic, but I believe his age is starting to show in his reviews and he might be on the cusp of being out of touch. Although I do agree that 3D is being overused.