I’ve been teaching at a Japanese junior high school about a week and a half now. It’s been a pleasure, the kids are great, and one thing they all seem to agree on is Toy Story. So many have told me that Toy Story 3 is better than Toy Story 2 and they sure are right. So far I’ve heard no verdict on the fourth film.
It’s a little ironic because, watching 2 and 3 over the past couple nights, I was struck by what an anachronistic, old fashioned American hero is Woody (Tom Hanks).
I guess the premise that he’s a toy is just enough of a spin that a sincere, sweet, straightforward cowboy is acceptable as a lead. Not that kids, even Japanese kids, would have any bias against cowboys but they’re not film producers.
Toy Story 2 is a good film and its story of Woody struggling with his loyalty to Andy and finding a new, more permanent home among his complete cowboy set is pretty good. Though the underlying reason behind his quandary, that he knows Andy will outgrow him one day, is what makes the third film so much more interesting since it explores exactly that topic directly.
The separation of 11 years also makes for a quantum leap in computer animation, too, which certainly helps. How much more effective it is when the state of the art texturing and expertly crafted human gestures turns an unruly mob of toddlers into something that really looks like it could obliterate a hapless toy collection. And then there’s also the introduction of several effective characters, particularly Lotso (Ned Beatty) and Ken (Michael Keaton).
What might have otherwise been a throwaway, over the top, overdone parody of Barbie’s Ken gets surprising nuance entirely due to Michael Keaton’s performance. So his sudden passion for Barbie is genuinely funny and his shifting loyalties are surprisingly believable.
The Toy Story films are available on Disney+.