I had lunch today with Matt Atchity, the LA-based editor-in-chief of critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which Flixster acquired from Fox/IGN in January. The marriage is a happy one--Flixster's mobile phone app and other efforts are tripling RT's traffic, which is back on the rise. The film that sat atop the site's review chart for years was Toy Story 2--until Man on Wire dethroned it. When it opens in June 18, will 3D Toy Story 3 wind up in the ranks of RT's top-rated--along with Pixar's unbroken string of ten rated-fresh blockbusters?
Probably. The first review out of the gate is in the form of a hybrid review/feature from unabashed Pixar fan Richard Corliss of Time:
That's the creative strategy at Pixar, which produced the first computer-animated feature, Toy Story, in 1995 and has bloomed ever since, through Finding Nemo, WALL•E and last year's Up. Pixar filmmakers have to be able to tap into their vestigial child, their inner Andy. In that sense, the Toy Story series is their collective autobiography. Like Andy, the Pixarians — from creative director John Lasseter on down — are smart kids who never renounced their childish belief that anything is possible. Why, to make an instant classic like Toy Story 3, it just takes an unfettered imagination, several hundred artists and technicians, about $200 million and four years of nonstop work. Child's play.
Which in turn opened the door for the trades to weigh in, while director @leeunkrich tweeted: "To avoid Toy Story 3 spoilers, avoid reviews in Variety and Hollywood Reporter. They always reveal entire plot."
Bottom Line: Woody, Buzz and playmates make a thoroughly engaging, emotionally satisfying return. After a decade-plus absence, the toys are back in town, and boy are they a sight for sore, 3D-beaten eyes."Toy Story 3" might not carry that eye-popping dazzle of 1995's milestone original that put Pixar on the map, but, in the absence of groundbreaking innovation, there's a greater depth that isn't solely attributable to those now-ubiquitous goofy glasses.
While Variety is murkily less positive:
Andy outgrows his anthropomorphic amigos Buzz and Woody in "Toy Story 3," the franchise's third (and final?) installment -- and as it turns out, 15 years after launching the computer-animated toon revolution, Pixar has outgrown them, too. Whereas "Toy Story 2" treated auds to a character-based sequel that handily justified its existence, this tertiary adventure delivers welcome yet nonessential fun, landing well after its creators have grown up and succeeded toying with more sophisticated stories. Nevertheless, the stereoscopic 3D release, which reportedly out-tested all of Pixar's previous efforts, should dominate summer playdates.
My take: This movie is more than welcome, while most of the studio movies released so far this year are utterly nonessential. The third Toy Story installment is a fascinating meta-movie that works on several levels at once. We start inside the vivid imagination of child Andy as he plays with the toys we know and love, led by Woody and Buzz (voiced again by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen). We move onto teen Andy trying to decide which toys to take to college; he keeps Woody and throws the rest into a garbage bag, but is distracted from delivering them to the attic; they end up first in the trash, then at a rough-and-tumble daycare center. Right from the start, Michael Arndt's script and Lee Unkrich's direction manipulate us into responding to real threats to these toys, not just to their happiness but their very survival. And parents will feel a familiar pang at watching a child leave his innocence behind.
Pixar does not rest on its laurels here. This is sophisticated storytelling crammed with visual, editing and sonic cues (Randy Newman is back in fine form), as the movie veers entertainingly (not jarringly) from one genre to another and deploys more and more complex technology as it goes. And like Up, it reaches into the heart and squeezes. My bet: with a boost from 3D (which like How to Train Your Dragon and Up is an organic, immersive enhancement), this will be the movie to beat as the summer's top performer.
UPDATE: Here's Todd McCarthy's review.