Friday, June 18, 2010

Lee Unkrich talks Toy Story 4

Aside from the brief blip of Toy Story 2 in 1999, it seemed that Pixar was a company averse to creating sequels; now, though, they’re positively swamped by them. Toy Story 3. Cars 2. A second installment of Monsters Inc. And now, while Toy Story 3 had been commonly regarded as the end of that franchise, director Lee Unkrich is reopening the door. “We know that people love the characters, love Woody and Buzz, and would hate to say good-bye to them completely,” Unkrich told MSN. “I don’t know that there would ever be a ‘[Toy Story] 4.’ We don’t have any plans for one — but we are trying to find ways to keep the characters alive. We have announced we’re going to do a short film in front of Cars 2 that uses the Toy Story characters. We’re going to keep them alive; they’re not going away forever.”

What I’m saying is… maybe they should?

 Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of Pixar. In fact, I think Toy Story 2 is one of their best films (topped only, perhaps, by Wall-E). I just don’t think we need any more Toy Story after this. These characters aren’t the new Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck — they’re too constrained by a narrative arc, and for my money, that arc already ended in Toy Story 2.

Toy Story 3 isn’t a bad movie by any means. It’s just a superfluous one. The conflicts in the movie were already done better in the previous installment, and so for most of its running time, TS3 just has to hit those same beats even harder. 

Once again, Woody is separated from the other toys, introduced to new ones, and driven into an existential crisis: should he reunite with Andy for a short but loving period of time or face a less satisfying (but potentially infinite) life elsewhere? 

Once again, the toys consider their own mortality and the fickle nature of their owners, but it’s an unnecessary elongation of the succinct, Sarah McLachlan-scored montage allotted to Jessie in the previous movie. (In fact, the storyline seems like such a do-over for the twice-abandoned toy that she literally says, “This is Emily all over again!”)

While these more mature themes were welcome in TS2, they’re cranked up to eleven in the sequel, crowding out the lightness, fun, and good humor present in the rest of the series. As if to apologize for how dark things get — and they get dark — much of the ending and even the closing credits is a hasty, overcompensating attempt to lighten the mood considerably, and I have a feeling that the Toy Story short in front of Cars 2 is intended to do the same. “See, kids? I know Woody and Buzz were in a lot of danger before, but they’re fine! We promise!”

I don’t think TS3 has much of an ending — though Pixar explores some very dark, final ideas in the film, the ending is ultimately just a postponement from grappling with them — but that doesn’t mean that I think the series should continue. Pixar is so great at developing new characters and unseen worlds, and I’d hate to see them keep coming back to this fairly tapped well. Go forth and develop new IPs! (And if you ever make a sequel to my beloved Wall-E, God help me, I will cut you.)

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