Saturday, October 24, 2009


There used to be a day when parents complained about the dearth of G-rated family fare suitable for kids and adults who wanted to go to the movies together. Nowadays the G rating is as much a stigma as ever, only slightly less so than the NC-17, consigned mostly for animated fare from Disney, the only studio that recognizes its asociation with the rating and seems least hesitant to embrace it. However unfairly, “G” has become synonymous with “toothless,” a warning to tweener mall rats who wouldn’t be seen swarming into anything less potent than a PG, itself a rating which suggests a higher level of sophistication, a promise of ever-so-slight naughtiness to viewers who may see themselves as too grown-up to march off to a G-rated movie with their entourage in tow. For most CGI comedies and other family-oriented movies, Disney included, PG is the new G, and PG-13 is, of course, the new PG-- which, as it is written, was begat of M, which in turn begat GP, which, of course begat PG. (Rimshot!) But whatever the rating—G, PG, PG-13— in today’s market, pitched as it is to an increasingly younger demographic whose parents have proven their willingness to turn everything from Wall-E to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs into huge must-see hits, there is no lack of movies to which parents might (relatively speaking) safely bring their children. Right now if you’re an adventurous parent you have Where the Wild Things Are and Astro Boy from which to choose, with The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog and A Christmas Carol (the last two products of the Disney factory) looming on the horizon. And if these don’t fill the bill, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is still in theaters, and you can always rent the DVDs or Blu-rays of movies like Coraline and Monsters vs. Aliens, big hits from earlier in the year.

But with all these choices, it is, if not exactly ironic, then at least somewhat reassuring, that the best choice for family entertainment in theaters right now, the greatest bang for an economically beleagured parent's entertainment budget, is a double feature of two movies, 14 and 10 years old, respectively. When it was first released by Pixar in 1995, Toy Story was the first salvo in a new wave of feature-length computer animation which initially asserted that the key to great animated films for children and adults was not the technology, which was constantly evolving, becoming ever more sophisticated, but instead the passion that should be devoted to the art of storytelling. By the time Toy Story 2 arrived in 1999 the technology had already moved along enough to make its predecessor look the slightest bit visually stodgy, although still miles ahead of what other companies, like Dreamworks, would cook up later with the likes of Shrek in apparently bottomless attempts to duplicate Pixar’s formula for success. To take advantage of the current vogue for 3D, Pixar has retrofitted their two Toy pictures with the latest in depth simulation, and it is pretty cool to see Woody, Buzz and company jump off the screen to the degree that they do. Never ones to just repackage and let live, Pixar has stitched the two pictures together with a spiffy 10-minute intermission created especially for this re-release featuring a countdown clock, more wacky “outtakes,” trivia and other fun stuff to make the time between features pass more quickly, and to make it harder to tear yourself away and hit the little boy’s room. (Go ahead and stay for the intermission, then take a whiz during the opening credits of Toy Story 2-- you’ve seen ’em a million time s anyway.)

While watching the movies again, with giant plastic glasses attached to my face, I became fascinated by how unaware I was at times that I was watching a 3D movie. Initially I chalked this reaction up to the notion that the movies didn’t originally lend themselves to the kind of visual gimmickry that could be exploited by 3D. But later, in reflecting upon them afterward, it became clear that the reason I “forgot” I was watching a 3D movie was that the experience didn’t seem appreciably different from the one I remembered having seeing them flat in 1995 and 1999 (and on DVD countless times since). In other words, the movies had already been rendered so lifelike, with such attention to tactile detail and congruity, even with the limitations of the 14-year-old pioneering technology, that in my head they were already 3D—the addition of spiffy Real-3D wizardry to “upgrade” the experience seemed superfluous, unnecessary. However, 3D or not, you may be saying to yourself, “I’ve had it with Pixar and the ancillary Toy Story marketing created to part me from my dollar on behalf of my insatiable kids.” And it’s true—after seeing Buzz and Woody on everything from lunch pails to towels to shoes to phones and everywhere else, one could be forgiven for crying “Enough!” So then the best thing about seeing Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on their current re-release (which was originally scheduled for two weeks only but has been, as the parlance used to proclaim, held over by popular demand) turns out to be the opportunity to be reminded, despite supersaturated exposure via DVD and every other pop cultural outlet for exploitation Disney and Pixar could brainstorm over the past 14 years, just how genuinely terrific these movies are as filmmaking, as beautifully modulated stories. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and yes, your appetite will be whetted for the upcoming Toy Story 3 (this one created with 3D in mind), which looks to keep mining the same vein of emotionally rewarding exploration of the relationship between a child and the artifacts of his or her childhood. The folks at Pixar are awfully smart. And it turns out they always were.

And both movies are still proudly rated "G."

See for yourself: the trailer for Pixar's Toy Story 3



le0pard13 said...

My kids and I really enjoyed this double feature (took me back to the old days when everything was a double feature). The 3-D was done effectively, but not to an overly obvious degree (as Lasseter wished to not distract from the key element of both - the story). The intermission was also great and entertaining - wished we had those way back when ;-). Thanks for the post, Dennis.

Rick Olson said...

Lovely post, Dennis. Was it only 1995, only 14 years ago that "Toy Story" came out? Seems like longer than that. There's been a lot of computer-animated water under the bridge since then, hasn't there?

But despite all of that, despite technical advances so that water flowing under bridges -- among other things -- is much more realistic these days, I maintain there has never been anything with quite the heart as the first.

Tony Dayoub said...


Thanks for bringing up the info about the intermission. I wasn't aware of the "bonus features," and it makes it a more attractive re-visitation than I originally expected.

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