1995’s Toy Story was like the original Star Wars: one of those rare breakthrough films that creates or redefines an entire genre of movies. It is hard to remember now what a revelation it was. Computer-generated animation had not previously been considered a genre in itself. It was more of a special-effects technique to enhance traditional hand-drawn animation or live-action movies.
Toy Story astounded viewers. The toy characters looked like real toys! (Unfortunately the human characters also looked like toys, which was sort of disconcerting, but they weren’t on screen much and in the excitement of the moment it was easy to forgive.) But the movie’s success had more to do with the clever writing which made it as enjoyable for adult viewers as for children.
Toy Story inspired an entire genre of computer-generated animated films. But as with Star Wars the effects on the industry were not entirely good. Toy Story began a trend in which the American studios focused all their attention on computer animation and stopped making traditional hand-drawn animation. A few traditionally-animated films were released after Toy Story but they were a fairly sad lot: uninspired, poorly written and often poorly drawn. All the money and creative energy was going into CG.
I think this is a regrettable. These are two very different art forms. One is not a substitute for the other.
Toy Story 3 is much like the original. Computer animation has become more sophisticated in the last 15 years, but the ability to render plastic toys was already nearly perfect in 1995; there’s not much room for improvement. The most noticeable change is the rendering of the human characters, which look much better. (Probably the ideal in a movie like this is for the human characters to look like live actors. We’re not there yet, but we’re much closer.)
All of the “Toy Story” movies have pretty much the same plot. A toy feels outgrown and abandoned. There is some sort of mix-up. Toys embark on a dangerous adventure. There is a tearful reunion at the end.
(Actually that probably describes the plot of most CG animated films. Hollywood doesn’t like to monkey with a winning formula.)
The final similarity is that Toy Story 3 has the same kind of clever and witty writing at the original, with lots of great “toy humor” that will appeal to nostalgic adults. This is what makes it worth watching. While this movie is in no sense a breakthrough, any fan of the original will probably like the sequel.