MoviesA Newcomer’s Toy Story Retrospective

Kielan EllisJune 20, 2019

Until yesterday, I had never seen any of the Toy Story films.

After seeing it once as a kid, I remember generally liking it despite not remember too many specifics – and more so, I’d never seen the second and third films – that is until this week. This article will serve as a personal journal of sorts, following my first viewing of the Toy Story series, so that I can decide (and perhaps help you decide) whether the newest installment is worth 15 bucks (or so) to go see.

Toy Story 1

Since this film is still very much in the public consciousness, it really didn’t have as much of an impact as expected. Toy Story is a fun romp of a film, with a beautiful message about acceptance and growing up. The main thing that stuck out was the animation, which obviously, especially for the time and for the technical advancements this film represented in the industry – is incredibly impressive. Lines from this film are quoted left and right, “you are a toy!!” being a notable example, and it’s obviously a classic for a reason. I left my couch feeling pretty happy after this one with a smile on my face and a fondness for the characters that left me thinking “hm – i’ll probably enjoy the next two.” So the very next day, I popped a bag of popcorn and I sat down in my kitchen in front of my computer to start the next film.

Toy Story 2

This movie is excellent. With the first Toy Story being a classic, it gives this film a sort of pass from having to be in any way thematically or story-telling wise complex. The filmmakers behind Toy Story 2 knew that great animation, compelling characters and an intriguing concept would only carry them the same distance they had already traveled, so they buckled down and created a well written, clever, self aware masterpiece. It’s a film that despite never really being called it, is a coming of age film, about someone discovering a truth about one’s self and reconciling it with who they think they are, about someone coming to grips with a life they never wanted, and about someone trying to find a balance between what makes them happy and what they know is right.

It is simply a beautifully told story, from the classic Toy Story cold open to the truly compelling action filled climax. The film is full of emotionally resonant moments (Jess’ montage is not one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon), and heavy performances, especially for a kids film. The only real gripe with Toy Story 2 was the side plot of Buzz and the gang trying to rescue Woody. Although it gets a whole lot more interesting as time goes on, with swapping Buzz, and trying to drive a truck and such, but it gets started rather slowly. In addition, the antagonist is quite cartoony (and yes, this is a cartoon), but this sticks out amongst the rather grounded characters that populate the rest of the film’s cast. Overall, Toy Story 2 left me quite invested – and very much looking forward to the final film of the trilogy.

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 definitely deserved its Best Picture nomination, and quite honestly if The Social Network wasn’t already one of my favorite films, I’d say it probably deserved the award. It’s one of the most impactful films I’ve watched in recent memory, and it is certainty a film that will be difficult to forget any time soon. After sitting down with my girlfriend to watch it, we were both in tears by the end, both trying to keep it together so we could hear the end of the movie.

This film was yet again both beautifully animated (this film having by far the most seamless and uncannily realistic animation) and stunningly acted while simultaneously somehow managing to be the best written film in the franchise. The antagonist is golden, with a compelling backstory of his own, complete with an actual tie to the main plot of the film, unlike the villains of the first two films of the series. It also ends with one of the most emotionally affecting climaxes and denouements in recent memory, with the now iconic furnace scene and an incredibly moving final sequence with Andy. The film also acts as a perfect bookend to the series, even ending with nearly the same frame that the whole series started with.

The Toy Story films are about growing up, and as a kid who, as of now, lives with his parents, is cleaning out his childhood room, and is moving out to go to college in a couple months, this film struck a very raw chord with me. It made me want to go back and revisit a chapter in my life I thought that I would have no use for. Simply, these movies made me feel like a child again, and that feeling is one that very few films have given me. These films, individually and as a series are, heart felt, energetic, passion fuelled, and bursting at the seems with care and emotion. It is one of the most cohesive, consistent and compelling series you will find.

But this all begs the question – why are they even making a fourth film? The story was wrapped up perfectly, and to be honest, part of me and surely others would want to leave the story where it ended, but – these three films did something unexpected. They made me care so deeply for a bunch of animated plastic toys. Through two layers of dissociation, through the work of CGI and the nature of the story, the films makes me empathize and care for these toys, so much so that this writer has got to see what comes next.

I’ll be seeing Toy Story 4. While not sure exactly what to expect, if the last three films are a base-line for the talent and passion that goes into this series, I’ve really got something to look forward to.

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