Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Delicate but potent nostalgia

Adventures of Buzz and Woody donâ??t need new technology to stand out

Posted on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 4:00 AM

****
Toy Story 1 & 2 in 3-D
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Rated: G
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer
Director: John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon
WorkNameSort: Toy Story 1 & 2 in 3-D
Our Rating: 4.00

Think back to 1995 for a moment and see if you can come up with any other film released that year that cannot be improved upon or, even more rare, one that gets even better with time. Best Picture winner Braveheart? It's been taken down a notch or two in the last decade and a half, for sure. Kids seems almost quaint today. Jumanji? Oh, please. (For argument's sake, I'm going to pretend I can't hear you screaming The Usual Suspects.)

For only a two-week run, Pixar has released a double feature of the first two adventures of Buzz Lightyear and Woody the cowboy. This should remind older audiences how much they loved spending time in little Andy's room and allow that audience to introduce the newest, tiniest Pixar fans to the fun before next year's third installment. Surprisingly, the approximately three hours at the theater breeze by, even for small children. (My 5-year-old has never sat still during one film on the big screen, but he barely made a peep during these two. It was miraculous.) Aiding the marathon is an intermission video featuring new Toy Story animation, trivia and an entertaining countdown.

But the supposed attention-grabber is the remastered visual aspect, now enhanced by this year's hottest cine-geek trend, 'Real-Dâ?� 3-D. Whatever Pixar thought they could provide with the addition of special glasses, however, must have been lost in translation. Besides some added depth and clarity ' which is noticeable even without the glasses ' precious little pops off the screen. Some snow here, a friendly dinosaur there, but otherwise it's the same movies you know and love.

Here's the extraordinary thing about the double feature: Watching the films again side by side, I'm struck by how utterly inconsequential and frivolous Toy Story 2 becomes. That 1995 original, featuring an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Joss Whedon and director John Lasseter, is still a sparkling gem of wit, erudition and innocence. Made for only $30 million, which today could only fund the craft services table of a standard romantic comedy, the simple execution of Woody's mission to rescue himself and his frenemy, Lightyear, belies several layers of emotional arcs and devastatingly pointed commentaries on nostalgia.

Recall this exchange, which takes place between two toys (Buzz and Woody) trapped beneath a semi rig, having gotten lost at a gas station thanks to Woody's pettiness:

Buzz: 'I just want you to know that even though you tried to terminate me, revenge is not an idea we promote on my planet.â?�

Woody: 'Oh. Well, that's good.â?�

Buzz: 'But we're not on my planet, are we?â?�

The humor is born out of immediately pierced expectations, sometimes multiple times within the same conversation.

Last year, in an interview with Creative Screenwriting, Wall-E director Andrew Stanton recalled that Whedon taught the Pixar guys how to write a script; by the 2000s, they would finally prove that they could. But the double feature also exposes 1999's Toy Story 2 as a lightly entertaining romp that sorely misses Whedon's touch. The jokes derive from either references to other films or awkward callbacks to the original, and the story itself suffers from carbon-copy redundancy. The sequel still hits its emotional mark, thanks to the touching addition of Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl and her crippling fear of rejection, but being attached at the hip to the first film does the second no favors.

Still, I cannot recommend enough seeing at least Toy Story while it's back on the big screen, where adults can laugh along with other adults for a change, rather than getting that puzzled look from the little one on the floor because you happened to crack up at Woody calling the wild-eyed Martians a bunch of 'zealots.â?�

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