Friday, 19 September 2014

A Toy Story is the Best Story (Or Why Toy Story is the Only Perfect Trilogy)

Alright, let's be truly honest here, it's about to get real. Like, really real. If you have a heart condition or a preexisting medical illness, caution is warned due to the amount of realness that's about to be laid down. Are you ready for how real things are about to get? Because they're about to get pretty real. Okay, you were warned, here it is: Most of your favourite movie trilogies aren't great...

Trilogies. Not great at being trilogies. That is, when it comes to being trilogies they aren't all that great... They aren't great movie trilogies, is what I'm saying. That's not to say they don't have great films in them, just that as a whole, they often don't add up to a great trilogy.

Maybe 'great' is the wrong word. No, in fact it is completely the wrong word, since I deliberately used the wrong word on purpose to mislead you. The right word would be 'perfect'. Nearly all the movie trilogies you love and think are great are not perfect. They just aren't.

And I'm not even going to talk about this one because the sequels do not exist.
They. Do. Not. Exist.
Realise the truth: There is no trilogy.

And if you search your feelings, you know it to be true. Most trilogies, like the overwhelming majority, aren't perfect. There's always at least one film that lets the other two down.

Sometimes a classic first film is followed by a not-so-classic second film and then concluded by a great final film, an example of which is the Indiana Jones Trilogy (which for the sake of argument I'm considering as a trilogy because it was a trilogy for two decades before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Raped Childhoods arrived to make the world a sadder place).

Raiders of the Lost Arc is great and made us fall in love with an archaeologist who really doesn't know how archaeology works since whips are not considered standard equipment for archaeological expeditions. And The Last Crusade was fundamental in proving the popular scientific theory which hypothesised that putting Han Solo and James Bond in the same movie could produce enough pure joy and awesomeness to last several lifetimes.

"Wait. You're in this movie too?! How can the frame sustain so much unbridled cool? Surely the level of cinematic awesome should tear a hole in the picture-reel continuum?" - Bond, James Bond

But in between being completely superfluous to the face melting of Nazis and finding the Holy Grail, Indy spent some time in The Temple of Doom to immerse himself in cultural insensitivity with two of the most annoying sidekicks of all time. After the rollicking good fun of Raiders, Temple of Doom is just mean. Like not simply dark, although it is dark, but actually mean-spirited at times with little of the fun that filled the first film and can be found in ample supply in Last Crusade. There are of course things to love in Temple of Doom, like the mine cart chase scene for instance, but it definitely is a inferior film to the other two in the trilogy.

But generally speaking, most great trilogies actually follow the good-good-terrible format, where the first two films are great or classics but the third film is a messy letdown. This nearly always tends to be the case with superhero trilogies, think of the first three X-Men movies, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, and the Dark Knight Trilogy.

In each instance, the first film is the most basic, introduces the characters and sets up the fictional universe while the second film takes that established universe and expands on it, often telling a deeper story with more focus on the characters and drama, a more compelling narrative and heavier action.

And then the third film comes along and it doesn't know what to do, so it decides to amp what it thinks were the popular elements of the second film to 11 because bigger is always better. So everything gets crammed in and throws it all together. So we end up with a third film with nearly with too many superfluous new characters (X-Men: The Last Stand) or too many villains with little to no time given to fully develop each of their motivations (Spider-Man 3), or with an overstuffed narrative that tries to do too much for no discernible reason and doesn't flow from one act to the next, actually leaving less of an impact than the previous film (The Dark Knight Rises).

Look! All out war on the streets. With armies and stuff. That's what you wanted in a Batman movie, right?
You liked it when the Joker blew up things in The Dark Knight? Well in this one, Bane blows up a football stadium and all the bridges!

This isn't limited to superhero trilogies though. The original Star Wars Trilogy, my favourite trilogy of all time because it just is, is one of these good-good-bad trilogies. Although in this case, it's more a case of great-great-good, the point still remains that the third film is a bit of a letdown compared to the first two films. I've already talked about how the first act of the film where Luke is all badass and rescues Han made Return of the Jedi my favourite Star Wars movie when I was a kid, but that's the thing, it was that first act.

For Return of the Jedi suffers from great first act that uses much of the cool in the film and doesn't seem as balanced or richly textured a film as Empire Strikes Back. It has a lot of awesome moments (in space!) and great action sequences but they don't quite add up the way they should. I love it but I know that it is a movie that is less than the sum of its parts.

And then Lucas had to go and do this, because he really wanted people to know that it was the weakest of the original trilogy.

The point is that very few trilogies are perfect. Even if there is some debate over exactly which film in a trilogy is the weakest or not on the same level as the other two, there is the sense that one of the films, whichever one, might not be as good. Except for one trilogy.

This has all been build-up to the reveal which was already given away in the title (pay attention), that the Toy Story Trilogy is one of, if not the only, perfect trilogy in cinematic history.

Yeah, about that.

Now before people start bringing up the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, let me tell you that you are both very correct, and hideously wrong. Seriously, maybe have that looked at, it looks gross.

You are correct in suggesting that the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is a perfect trilogy where every film is roughly on the same level as the others. However, you are so disgustingly wrong (please see a doctor), because it isn't really a proper trilogy. At least not in the conventional sense.

Do not be fooled, this is not a traditional trilogy.

A conventional movie trilogy will follow the continuing adventures of a single group of heroes within the same fictional universe. The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy instead is comprised of three movies made by the same people (the Holy Trinity of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), where each film pays homage to a specific genre of film, namely, zombies movies, buddy cop flicks, and alien invasion films.

While many actors appear across all the films, they play different characters and the films exist in different fictional universes and do not continue the same narrative. There might little nods to the previous movies and the regular appearance of Cornettos, but these are little more than Easter Eggs. They don't really tie the movies together as a trilogy in the same way following Luke's whiny farmboy to whiny hero journey across three Star Wars films does. Shaun never met Nicholas Angel and they both never hung out with Gary King, mostly because they were all played by Simon Pegg. In fact, the only thing that really connects the films is that they all feature a different flavour of Cornetto ice cream and are made by the same people. Which is great but doesn't really make it a traditional trilogy.

But the Toy Story Trilogy is a traditional trilogy and the most perfect trilogy.

Yes, the CGI animated films about toys that are sentient and want nothing more than to play with kids.
That's my pick for the most perfect trilogy in the history of film.

Now, when Toy Story came out in 1995, it was a game-changer. It was the first full-length CGI animated movie, and the first full-length film produced by Pixar Animation, who we now all know and love.

It was also the first time you probably saw Joss Whedon's name attached to something that was undoubtedly good.

Before he buffered vampire slaying and shot cowboys into space. Before he put dolls in a house or assembled people in tights.
He played with Andy's toys.

Toy Story was followed by Toy Story 2 in 1999 and Toy Story 3 in 2010. And honestly, the timing of those movies, whether by design or not, is brilliant. Kids who were around the age of 5-8 who watched the first movie would have been about the same age as Andy, the toys' kid, and then 8-14 when the second one came out, and around university/college age when the final one came out, you know, the one where Andy is going away to college.

Therefore, in a profound way, each film in the trilogy came out at a pivotal time in their childhood with the kid that all toys belong to being around the same age as they were, myself included. That's fantastic since the films literally grew up with us, with Andy as our own personal stand-in, allowing us to project ourselves onto him. Feeling that his toys were our toys, that they just really wanted to play with us and love us.

"Hi, I'm Mr Potato Head and I just want to be played with."
"Thank you for sharing, Mr Potato Head. That was very brave of you. Admittance is the first step."

But the great thing about the Toy Story movies, a big part of what makes it the perfect trilogy, is that each movie builds on the last, examining the themes of the previous film in greater depth and with greater pathos since with each passing film, you've grown more attached the characters. And the characters too are fleshed out more and more as the series progresses.

By the final film, Mr Potato Head and Ham's comedy duo act is as comfortable as a well worn glove and as familiar as your favourite porn browser, but it doesn't fall into complacency. Instead they are doing what they do best with the self-assuredness of knowing how and when to bounce off each other because they've been doing it for years. We see Woody's development from self-confidence and jealousy in the first film, to doubting his place in the world in the second film, to finally in the final film, where he learns to that he has to accept change despite his devotion to Andy.

He's also a dreamboat voiced by Tom Hanks.

Actually following Woody's journey throughout the films, you can see the major theme of the movies, which is family. The films all deal with feelings of becoming less important in your loved ones lives as they grow older and the fear of rejection and abandonment, and what counts as family. And Woody exemplifies this.

In the first film, he has to cope with his bitter jealousy of Buzz Lightyear like an older sibling who has just gotten a younger brother or sister. Where before they occupied all of their parent's attention, all of a sudden there is another child that demands and gets the attention that they used to get. Woody initially rejects Buzz because he is the jilted older brother, resentful of the fact that his parent (or kid in this case) isn't spending as much time with them now that they're attention is divided.

"I'm mocking you to mask the insecurity and anxiety I feel that you're going to replace me."

In the second film, Woody discovers that he has the whole other family that he could be part of, his 'biological' family if you will, when he is told that he's a collector's item.

And he feels quite conflicted on where he should be and whether it would be better to be with his adoptive family of toys and be there for Andy for as long as Andy needs him, or go with Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete to be admired by children from behind a glass case.

An eternity behind a glass case with these guys wouldn't be all that bad.
They're a couple of wild and crazy toys.

The key thing here is the love. In all of the movies, the toys want nothing more than to be loved and played with. They are terrified of being rejected or discarded. And while this was a key aspect in the first two films, it really comes to the fore in the final film.

Andy is all grown up now and going away to college. He hasn't played with them in years and a number of the toys from the previous movies aren't there anymore, having been given away over the years. When you hear that Bo Peep, Woody's love interest, was given away, it is a legitimately sad moment. How could she not be there? They're family. The sense of loss in Woody's voice when he says, "Yes, Bo too" is palpable.

The third film is where it all comes together. Where the themes of jealousy to towards new family members and what family means were key themes of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 respectfully, Toy Story 3 is all about keeping family together. Seriously, they mention keeping together a lot in the film, like essentially every scene where they talking about what to do. Because all they have is each other. They might not be able to be Andy's toys forever and they might not always be played with by kids, but at least they have each other and that's enough because they're family.

And the reason that this is so powerful and effective is because each film built upon the last, deepening your connection with the characters. If the sequels hadn't been of a similar high quality like the first film and the characters hadn't become as familiar as old friends due to their likability and rounded personalities, we wouldn't have really cared about what happens to them in the final film.

I mean, of course we could still feel the emotion of the scene but it wouldn't have hit us as hard as it did. That's the reason so many grown adults admit to crying during this film. They're seeing characters they grew up with in some really dramatic and emotional situations and you really think they might not make it because the writing is so sharp and poignant.

The scene that made a generation bawl their eyes out.
There is no joke here, just feels.

And the great thing about that scene is Woody's reaction. You can see his mind frantically thinking of any way to escape, to save everyone, his eyes signalling desperation. You can see it in the above screenshot.

But what happens after is beautiful. He holds their hands and closes his eyes, resigning himself to their fate. But it is okay. No, it really is. Because he is with his family and that is where he wants to be, where they all want to be.

They may be saved by Deus ex The Claw and then go off to the happiest of bittersweet endings ever when Andy gives them away, but that incinerator scene is so powerful because it feels so real and their love for each could not be more sincere.

Therefore, when the toys are handed to Bonnie to look after and Andy leaves in the last scene, there is so much emotion swelling it is almost suffocating how choked up I get.

I'm still not joking, only choking back the tears.

And when Woody says, "So long partner," at the end of the film, you really feel like he, and the rest of the toys, are saying goodbye directly to you.

And I couldn't think of a more perfect way to finish the perfect trilogy.


References:

Toy Story Wikipedia page

Toy Story IMDb page

Toy Story 2 Wikipedia page

Toy Story 3 Wikipedia page

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This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

I also write stuff online.