It’s difficult to remember what theatrical animation was like before Pixar. I remember that a Disney movie would come out every year or so and I’d beg my parents to take me and that’d be about it. I wasn’t stupid enough to go see a Don Bluth movie in the theater, at least. And pretty much all the animation was 2D! I remember when it was a giant fucking deal that Aladdin had 3D CG mixed in. I remember when people’s jaws were dropping during the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. You’d occasionally see a 3D CG animated short on Nickelodeon (especially on Thanksgiving), but other than those, that was about it. Computer graphics were a delicacy, like caviar for the developing eyes of a cartoon-addled child. This was back when 3D viewing was still considered retro and gimmicky, too!
But then it was 1995. Disney was quickly losing their shit (Pocahontas? HUNCHBACK?) and no one was stepping up to take the doddering king’s place. Except for one studio who dared to look toward the future, and saw the potential in the shiny, plastic-looking aesthetic of computer animation. And Disney still had enough sense left in them to see the potential, as well, and released Pixar’s film Toy Story into theaters. And it was a success! The rare non-Disney animated feature to garner universal acclaim and commercial success! Combining heartfelt storytelling with sly, inventive humor, Pixar created a franchise.
A franchise that’s never quite sat well with me.
I mean, I liked Toy Story well enough. I could appreciate it for the way it pioneered a whole new medium and for the relative sophistication it had compared to other offerings. Even as a child, it seemed a bit sharper than the competition. But the movie’s aesthetic just didn’t age very well (see: any human in the film) and then there was John Lasseter’s unhealthy taste in Randy Newman. It just didn’t resonate with me the same way Aladdin or other films did. And seeing Toy Story 2 years later, when it was rereleased in 3D, I can see why people consider it a marked improvement. The added characters actually ADD to the proceedings rather than detract and it explored some interesting aspects of toy culture. But it still wasn’t yanking me like I wanted it to. Was it the indifference to stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen? The still-uncanny-valley human characters? The seemingly recycled bit where the gang has to deal with another fresh-out-of-the-box Buzz Lightyear? The world may never know.
So it was with some chagrin that I learned that Pixar was going back to the well again with Toy Story 3. I mean, I’m not surprised. Aside from Cars, it’s probably their most profitable property. It also has that nostalgic glimmer of being their first feature animation, and enough time has gone by that super-fans of the original might have kids of their own to take to a sequel. Canny Disney thinking at work, there. So after enduring months of breathless Toy Story fans spazzing out over the idea of a threequel and the outpouring of praise from the rest of the press, I decided to go see it to give it a fair shake. If anything, I probably wouldn’t hate it.