Before, I spoke about wanting an empty cinema, void of distractions, for watching my films. The hypothesis was this: people whisper and suck you out of immersion. It can be a good thing: I’ve mentioned how Four Lions seemed, I suspect, funnier because of the amount (and mood) of people in that screening. But, for good or bad, it’s pretty much undeniable: the audience changes the film.
Pixar films are the exception to this rule (the problem becoming inverted: the oh God don’t cry that would be too embarrassing don’t cry effect). Where Inception was difficult to engage with emotionally, being distracted from Toy Story was near-impossible. I could see Dom checking his watch to my left. I knew we were cutting it tight with our parking ticket. I just didn’t care.
Because Pixar have discovered the magical formula, now. The film consistently pulls on a visceral emotional response. Sometimes that’s laughter, or warm nostalgia. Sometimes it’s pure, big, colourful spectacle. Often it’s trying to make you cry.
These are the things Inception doesn’t quite know how to use. Even, for example, as an action film, Toy Story fares better. It provides more pure heart-in-mouth moments, at least one example of sheer terror for the plight of the heroes. For all its folding cities and rotating, anti-gravity fight scenes, Toy Story does spectacle better.
In emotion? Inception is barely interested. Pixar, meanwhile, are masters of traditionally-crafted films, everything perfectly placed knowing the exact reaction it aims for and will achieve.That sounds a light mechanical. And Toy Story‘s difficult to talk about this way, because it’s as exactly as much of a bare example of pure, masterful craft as Inception is.
And, thing is: while I hardly dreaded seeing Toy Story 3, it summoned nothing of the excitement the last few Pixar films have held for me. I knew the formula, I didn’t care much for the characters and, frankly, it seems unlike the Pixar of today. They seem a little beyond sequels at this point. The first film is a great family film … but Pixar seem to be pushing to making films for adults, that just happen to be accessible to (and, fortunately, hold the endless fascination of) kids too. Not too many other films in the history (and probably future) of cinema whose focus was a grieving widower could also sell action figures and inspire arguments over, no, I wanna be Kevin this time in the back garden, y’know?
Being fully honest, a lot of my worries applied.
They just didn’t matter.
It was formulaic. The plot followed the familar pattern of the first two in a lot of ways. But damn if it didn’t fight the corner for the film formula as a non-dirty word. The formula works, and it’s a proven form on which to hang some quite thoughtful ideas: in this case, a reversal of the getting-old/broken/redundant theme of Toy Story 2. I’m still not too fond of Buzz and Woody as characters, true: but the ideas they represent – childhood, and lost toys, and innocence – are holy to me. Endangering them is an assault on entire parts of my personality.
Which is why being a sequel works. Toy Story was itself a part of my childhood; it’s true for all of us. No other piece of pop-culture has held such a perfect position for our generation. It’s as easy to sneer at the little kids going into the cinema as it is the newcomers attending a gig to sing along to the chorus of your favourite band’s one accidental hit-single and tap their toe through the other stuff. This isn’t theirs, it’s ours.
After all, it’s been seven years. In any other hands, this would look like greed. And until I sat down in that cinema, being honest, it did. But, just like Dom checking his watch and the ticking parking meter and the impending potential fine, it all washed away in the ease of perfect feeling Toy Story 3 manages to be. Enough to show me I was being a snob; to show me the wisdom in letting us grow out of Toy Story just a little, placing us firmly in the place of Andy, and so more emotionally vulnerable. But all that came after the film; not during. Never during. That’s the Pixar magic.
Oh, and speaking of essays: if you would by any chance be interested in reading the essay I wrote for a Film Studies course on death and mourning in Disney and Pixar films (using Up, Bambi and The Lion King as my examples), let me know and I’ll post it up on here. But be warned, it makes this admittedly long-windeed post look like a brief relaxed chat.