Flicked Off: 'Toy Story 3' Provokes Mass Audience Sobbing

by Dan Kois


After we watched Toy Story 3, my wife and I ate dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Why did we do this? Well, Wisconsin Avenue, near Mazza Gallerie in Chevy Chase, has some pretty slim pickings, restaurant-wise. Also, we did it because the Cheesecake Factory is fucking delicious. I got some kind of fried-chicken pasta in cream sauce, no lie. Just for the hell of it they laid two wide slices of prosciutto atop the whole shebang. None of it was exactly right; the pasta was a little mushy, the chicken was a little greasy, the prosciutto was sub-Boar’s Head quality. But all together, drenched in butter and cheese, it was so good.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the movie we’d just seen, and about why things become popular with Americans. About how some things that are popular are frauds. Like the Cheesecake Factory: Its fancy lighting, zingy decor, and decadent over-large dinners are like someone’s idea of a nice restaurant. But some things, like Pixar movies, are miracles: They are popular because they are actually so fucking good that they couldn’t be unpopular. Toy Story 3 is going to make a gazillion dollars, and it deserves every penny. It is amazing.

Certainly you know, from the trailer and from general cultural osmosis and from that horribly depressing Times piece about how kids who were five when the first Toy Story came out ARE NOW TWENTY, that in Toy Story 3, little kid Andy is now college boy Andy and all his favorite toys face obsolescence.

But what you don’t know yet is that Toy Story 3 is totally bonkers. It has a mushroom cloud made of a trillion plastic monkeys, and it has a scene in which Buzz Lightyear is tortured under a bare light bulb. It has a terrifying horror-movie flashback. It has the best escape sequence since The Great Escape (or maybe Chicken Run). One of its heroes is a creepy walking, talking tortilla. It features an agonizing scene in which our favorite toys, facing a roaring inferno, close their eyes, hold hands and make peace with death. It makes an adorable teddy bear the terrifying villain and a baby doll his henchman. It toys with the old gag about the sexual identity of the Ken doll, deftly sidestepping offense and instead presenting the most surprising portrayal of gender fluidity in a 3-D family movie since Johnny Depp played the Mad Hatter as Madonna.

Which is all to say that the first eighty minutes of Toy Story 3 make up as funny, rousing, surprising, and exciting an adventure as you’re likely to see all year. And it’s also to say that nothing in those first eighty minutes prepared me for the final fifteen minutes, which I spent bawling, as did every moviegoer around me. The tears streamed down my face as they had not since… well, since I saw Up. And then before that, the only time I cried at a movie was during… well, it was during Monsters, Inc. And so I wasn’t precisely surprised to have my waterworks turned on by a bunch of fucking toys, but still.

It’s not exactly hard to fool Americans into thinking they’re watching a funny movie. Just kick someone in the nuts.

It’s a piece of cake to fool Americans into thinking they’re watching an exciting movie. Just cut every action sequence so fast that no one can see what’s going on.

It’s pretty easy to fool Americans into thinking they’re watching a really sad movie. Just kill off someone’s dad.

But those movies are frauds. Sometimes they fool Americans, and sometimes, glory be, they don’t.

You know what’s hard? To actually make a funny movie, and a sad movie, and an exciting movie, and a thoughtful movie, and an artful movie, and a challenging movie, and a sophisticated movie, and a surprising movie, all at once. To make it with integrity and wit, to never insult your audience — whether that audience is five or 35 or 65 — and to do it again and again and again, eleven times and counting. That’s a miracle.

That’s why the people of Pixar are currently America’s most important filmmakers. And that’s why Toy Story 3 is the best movie of the year.

Dan Kois writes about movies and plays and comic books, too.