Tag Archives: 16/20

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Two aspiring guitarists seem destined to failure at school and separation, until the intervention of the mysterious Rufus and his time-travelling phone box. Will their race against time see them present their all-important history report and thereby secure the future happiness of the entire planet?

Some films, without even knowing it at the time, capture and shape a moment brilliantly. For the benefit of those who weren’t there or weren’t listening, for a number of years in the late 80s and beyond films such as Bill and Ted’s… and Wayne’s World shaped the vocabulary of English-speaking youngsters with phrases such as ‘Excellent!’ and ‘Party on!’ Not having seen the original Saturday Night Live sketches, I am unable to say whether Bill and Ted or Wayne and Garth first brought these ubiquitous slacker phrases to the world’s attention, but I would like to think the honour lies with this film’s pairing.

The similarities between Wayne’s World and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure go beyond vocabulary, as both feature the protagonists as aspiring musicians, creating videos and an awful racket in their parents’ basement/garage. However, unlike the later film, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves (as Bill and Ted respectively) at least look the same age as the characters they portray; and unlike the later film’s concentration on Myers’ mugging to the camera, Bill and Ted actually have a story to tell.

More concerned with forming a rock band than studying, Ted is threatened with being sent to a military academy in Alaska unless he achieves an extremely unlikely A+ in his and Bill’s history presentation. Unbeknownst to them, the happiness of 27th Century San Dimas, California relies on the success of Wild Stallyns (sic), so a cool dude called Rufus (the late George Carlin) is dispatched to make sure the assignment is a knockout. The boys bag a host of historical figures to give their impressions of present-day San Dimas, impeded by the unreliability of their phone booth, the threat of execution in medieval England, and the meddling of Ted’s uptight father.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure has much more to offer than the dumb amiability of its title characters, though this is a good part of its charm (Reeves in particular is uncommonly cheerful). The script makes good use of the double incongruity the plot device offers, getting comedy out of the pair plucking figures such as Socrates, Napoleon, Beethoven and Freud out of history, as well as the historical figures’ reactions to modern day California. The mall scene and Napoleon at the water park are standouts, but there is always something going on in the film that, at a trim 83 or so minutes, never does anything simply to beef up the running time.

It also has fun with its sci-fi elements, the choice of phone box/booth being, presumably, a nod to Dr Who’s TARDIS; and while you can drive yourself mad with the paradox that Rufus would not visit them unless they ultimately succeeded which wouldn’t happen unless Rufus visited them (if you follow me), the film knows and revels in this with the Eddie Van Halen conundrum and the business with Ted’s Dad’s keys. Speaking of Van Halen, the noodly riffs accompanying Bill and Ted’s air guitar movements are also cute.

If I have to gripe, the cursory introduction of the princesses as love interest is so brief as to be almost totally redundant, and Beethoven’s keyboard masterpiece in the shopping mall contains no keyboard whatsoever, as far as I can tell. But the film is full of so much charm, playfulness and invention that you hardly notice flaws, and are left totally inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s exhortation to ‘Be excellent to each other’ during Bill and Ted’s exciting (and educational!) history concert. In an age where comedy is pitched at the level of getting laid, naked or drunk for laughs, to watch a film that entertains by doing none of these things is indeed – how best to put it – most excellent. Bodacious, even.

Blade Runner

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: 2019: Alarmed by a massacre on an off-world shuttle, the police order ‘Blade Runner’ Rick Deckard to seek out and destroy the latest generation of Replicants, robots virtually indistinguishable from humans. His deadly game of hide and seek is complicated by his relationship with Rachel: beautiful, intelligent, and one of the Replicants he is assigned to ‘retire.’

Based on the Philip K Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ridley Scott’s second future-based film (the first being Alien) was infamously messed about with by nervous studio bosses concerned at the ambiguity of the film’s denouement. This review is of the 1992 director’s cut which restores most of Scott’s vision.

And what a vision it is. Calling on the services of 2001 effects maestro and Silent Running director Douglas Trumbull, Blade Runner presents a vision of the future that is both credible and convincing, Los Angeles presented as a perpetually dark city where neon tubes provide the main source of light and adverts are projected onto buildings, where hovering police cars patrol the poor, immigrant-filled quarters of town. It’s not a unique vision, but only because the style has been copied in endless films, games, and television shows since (Total Recall – based on another Dick story – perhaps unsurprisingly springs to mind).

Rising high above the poverty are glittering buildings such as that belonging to the Tyrell Corporation, the makers of the ‘more human than human’ Nexus 6 Replicants that Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been assigned to kill, or rather ‘retire’. Such care has been taken in the set design of this building (inside and out) and others, and in the costumes for Deckard, elderly ‘Creator’ Dr Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and his special project Rachel (Sean Young, looking like a film noir femme fatale), it is hard to tell when the film was made.

Of course, clues are given in details like the CRT televisions and primitive computer graphics, and the age of the actors is fairly obvious; but by and large Blade Runner succeeds because it projects a view of the future which does not have 1982 stamped all over it. This is also true of Vangelis’ sparse, spacey score which adds greatly to the atmosphere.

The story itself is a very simple game of hide and seek. The Replicants are led by Roy (Rutger Hauer), who with the help of Pris (Daryl Hannah) gains access to genetic engineer J F Sebastian (William Sanderson) and via him, their ‘Maker’ Tyrell. Deckard must find and retire the Replicants, but he is distracted by Rachel, who does not know she is a Replicant until Deckard conducts tests on her.

Aside from a chase which sees the other Replicants killed – exotic dancer Zhora and disturbed manual worker Leon – there is little action other than the final hunt in the creepy building where Sebastian lives. Again, atmosphere is key here, and the scene where Deckard searches for Pris among Sebastian’s weird toys is nothing short of brilliant.

As with the special effects, the film’s script thrives on attention to detail. The provoking questions of the test used to expose Replicants and Rachel’s vivid childhood memories that blind her to her artificiality are just two examples of the film’s intelligence, which creates atmosphere in the absence of action and raises significant questions. If the Replicants are virtually human, do ‘humans’ have the right to enslave or destroy them? What, in fact, constitutes being human? Not to give the game away, but Roy’s last speech is a thing of beauty, as is the ‘proper’ ending to the film that the director’s cut restores.

However, you can understand why studio bosses may have wobbled. In the era of The Empire Strikes Back and E.T., this is a science fiction film with no laser gun duels or spacecraft battles, few laughs, zero merchandising opportunities and an ambiguous ending. Blade Runner is undoubtedly serious stuff and there are only so many times you can use the words ‘intelligent’ and ‘atmospheric’ when the word you really want to use is ‘slow.’ Blade Runner excites the mind rather than the heart, but it should be seen: as the director intended, and on as big a screen as possible.

A Mighty Wind

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Following the death of folk music impresario Irving Steinbloom, his family work to bring together the acts he made famous for a tribute concert in New York’s Town Hall. Trouble is, there are only two weeks to organise the concert and not all the acts are in the best of mental states to perform at the live, televised concert.

A Mighty Wind is Guest’s third documentary-style film, following on from Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show. All three films were created in the same fashion: Guest wrote the story together with co-star Eugene Levy, but all the dialogue is improvised by the actors. Although the overall effect here is not quite as successful as the grand-daddy of mockumentaries, This is Spinal Tap, this is arguably Guest’s best entry in the genre.

One reason for the success of the film is the familiarity of the cast with each other’s temperaments. The ensemble cast is headed up by Bob Balaban as nervous organiser Jonathan Steinbloom, but it is in the bands that the chemistry really shows: The Folksmen – Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean – have the sort of rapport you would expect from their incarnation as Spinal Tap, but they do not play their characters as Tap grown old so much as what the rock band’s fathers would have been like. It is good to see them riffing off each other, in all senses of the word.

The (New) Main Street Singers, most notably John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey, are all good fun, but the stars of the show are unquestionably Mitch and Mickey. Their reunion provides the film with a strong emotional centre and some of the film’s best scenes; Levy’s spaced-out performance as Mitch is balanced superbly by Catherine O’Hara as world-weary Mickey, reliving an almost forgotten dream. In turn, she is balanced by Jim Piddock as dull husband and catheter salesman Leonard.

Mitch and Mickey’s story also provides an anchor to the film; although A Mighty Wind is consistently funny, the actors’ enthusiasm tips some of the gentle humour into silliness, whilst other jokes float by unnoticed. The best lines are delivered by Fred “Wha’ happened?” Willard (excellent as the New Main St Singers’ manager) and Ed Begley Jr as the Public Broadcast Network producer whose Yiddish is as good as his Swedish. Not all the performances work – Jennifer Coolidge makes do with a funny voice for laughs – and, as usual with Guest, the ‘What happened afterwards’ ending is hit-and-miss. Even here, though, I liked Shearer’s transformation from a bald, bearded bass player into a far more glamorous one.

Musically, Mitch and Mickey are given the most memorable tunes; but all the music, most evident in the concert itself, sounds like authentic folk, albeit with a comic leaning, and adds to the warmth of the film. To say that A Mighty Wind is a ‘nice’ film sounds patronising, but this is exactly what it is: an affectionate comedy with uplifting songs and, a bit of headboard-banging aside, nothing to alarm the children. No violence, no malice, just a love for gags and music. It may not change your life, but it will certainly brighten up a wet weekend – and have you humming for weeks.

The Lion King

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Protected by his doting father Mufasa, lion cub Simba looks over the Pridelands with excitement, knowing that one day he will become ruler of all he sees. However, Simba’s jealous uncle Scar callously usurps the throne, sending the rightful heir into exile full of panic and guilt. Simba makes new friends and carves out a new untroubled life, but a familiar face or two make him aware of his rights and responsibilities.

From their vantage point of Pride Rock, regal lions Mufasa and Sarabi (voiced by James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair) present their first-born son Simba to their respectful subjects – zebras, giraffes, hippos and so on. Not everyone is delighted by the new arrival, however; Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) resents being pushed down the line of succession, and tricks the young, impetuous cub (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a child, Matthew Broderick as an adult) and his lioness friend Nala (Niketa Calame/Moira Kelly) into visiting the dangerous elephants’ graveyard, the lair of savage hyaenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings). Alerted by his fussy majordomo, hornbill Zazu (Rowan Atkinson), Mufasa rescues the youngsters, but the incident sparks an idea in Scar’s mind. He places Simba in the path of a buffalo stampede, then sets up Mufasa for a fatal fall and lays all the blame on the distraught cub.

Simba flees and grows up trying to forget about his past, aided by easy-living pals Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), a tuneful meerkat and warthog combo; but reminders are never far away, especially when Nala turns up with dreadful tales of Scar and the hyaenas’ desecration of the Pridelands, soothsaying Baboon Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) hot on her heels. Will Simba confront his own guilt – and his treacherous uncle?

Although Disney are naturally upbeat about their movies, many of which are (apparently) timeless ‘Classics’ as soon as they’re released, even the most sycophantic of supporters would concede that films such as The Black Cauldron and Oliver and Company did little to enhance their reputation in the 1980s. However, the decade ended with The Little Mermaid and the impetus provided by its success snowballed into Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The majestic gathering of the animals with which the film starts can only have been made by people who absolutely love animation, and the rest of the film aims for equal levels of excellence.

Famously, The Lion King was the first Disney animation to feature no humans, and it’s all the better for it; the characters are beautifully animated, combining just the right amounts of cartoon cutesiness and animal grace. They are given vocal talents to match, too: the wonderful rich tones of James Earl Jones, the weary sarcasm of Irons, the buffoonish blustering of Atkinson, the arch wisecracks from Lane, the sinister menace from Goldberg.

The script is full of smart little jokes, especially for Timon and Zazu (his interrupted rendition of ‘It’s a Small World’ is a lovely little in-joke), but the overall feel is grand, epic, the tale of a great tradition. The film is sincere about the circle of life, in ecological terms (Mufasa’s speech about Antelopes eating the grass) as well as hierarchical, Mufasa and Simba being from a line of kings who rule to keep the land in balance. And on top of all that, the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are mostly of high quality* and are backed up by Hans Zimmer and Lebo M’s evocative, African-tinged score.

If there are nits to be picked, they are largely down to matters of personal preference which others will say act in the film’s favour. The Lion King is not exactly over-burdened with plot, and what there is plays out as a junior-school reduction of Hamlet (ie. taking out the incest, contemplation of suicide, and the possibility of Nala going mad and drowning herself in the watering hole). Which is fine, but older viewers may just yearn for something a tad meatier – although the climax is brilliant and provides as much drama as you could possibly ask for.

And some may take issue with The Lion King’s philosophical stance. I wouldn’t call it fascistic by any stretch, but it is interesting to contrast The Lion King with the equally charming Babe: one says that you’re born into a role and that you’re letting yourself and others down if you deviate from it, by (for example) adopting the dropout philosophy of ‘Hakuna Matata’; the other says that your status at birth shouldn’t hold you back from changing your life as you see fit. I’m not suggesting that these competing philosophies are writ large on the screen, or that they have any bearing on the quality of either movie: but the messages are there and are worth pondering.

Anyway, if little of this seems like a review of the movie, it’s because The Lion King is simply a marvellous film with so much to recommend it that niggles over a lack of complexity or originality** only act as slightly dull spots which boost the shine of the whole. Funny, moving and beautifully brought to life, I definitely feel the love for one of Disney’s genuine classics.

NOTES: 1The ‘Special Edition’ loses a point for the reinstatement of ‘Morning Report’. It was obviously not good enough to be the first song of the film proper, so why inflict it on us now?

2The Japanese animation Jungle Emperor/Kimba the White Lion never made it over to Britain, so I couldn’t possibly make any comparisons. I have, however, seen a few Youtube clips which are, let’s say, interesting. As the teacher says, there is no new thing under the sun…

Spider-Man 2

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Peter Parker is now in full control of his arachnid-based super-powers, but not remotely in charge of his own affairs, forever struggling to be on time for events in his personal and private life. Whilst Peter battles not to let down his friend Harry, the love of his life MJ, his aunt May, his employers or his college professor, he wonders whether he has room for Spider-Man, even though a menacing new danger to the city means New York needs him more than ever.

Between the exposition-laden efforts of the first Spider-Man and the villain-heavy, revisionist and criminally dance-obsessed Spider-Man 3 falls this movie, unsurprisingly named Spider-Man 2. Picking up smartly from its predecessor, Spider-Man 2 finds Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) a stressed man, failing to balance his secret superhero identity with a part-time pizza delivery job, photographic assignments for the Daily Bugle and a demanding Physics course.

Not only that, but his mind is still full of Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) – now a successful and attached actress – and two reasons to feel guilty: firstly, because he has to hide his secret from vengeful best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), whose father Spidey had to kill. Secondly, because he still feels responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben and therefore his Aunt May’s loneliness, especially as she is about to lose her house. Spidey can just about keep crime on the streets of New York under control, but he is hopeless at his jobs and making dates, causing Peter frustration and everyone around him to despair.

Given all this, it’s something of a surprise that the film can even fit in a baddie, but it does in the imposing shape of Alfred Molina’s Dr Otto Octavius, a brilliant (and surprisingly sympathetic) physicist who falls, following the sort of accident that always happens in comic-book movies, prisoner to the alien, self-preserving arms that he created to manipulate a dangerous fusion-based energy source. Because only Harry has access to the precious chemical needed to recreate the experiment, and only ‘Doc Ock’ can give Harry access to Spider-Man, a pact is sealed that puts Peter and ‘MJ’ in mortal danger; since Peter has resolved to forsake Spider-Man in order to live his own life, that danger is keener still.

From a bravely pessimistic premise that sees Peter fairly unhappy (witness, for instance, his crummy flat), Spider-Man 2 is a gripping adventure that weaves comedy, romance and action around a tight plot that makes good use of characters with little that is wasteful or indulgent. Not only does it pose moral questions of Parker – if you are in a position to look after the weak, are you duty bound to do so? – but also of the villain, with Molina bringing great humanity to the Doc Ock role whilst his sinister tentacles cause havoc.

The cast are all comfortable in their roles, Maguire handling both the action and comedy with aplomb, although as usual everyone is outshone in the comedy department by J K Simmons as the Bugle’s ballsy editor. Franco comes across as suitably conflicted, unable to cement his feelings about Peter into hatred, whilst Dunst effectively portrays MJ’s quandary, in love but unwilling to wait for Peter forever. And whilst some may feel that the film is a little light on web-slinging, the action sequences arrive at regular intervals and are both convincing and exciting when they happen, the stuntwork and CGI both a big step up from Spider-Man.

You could also argue that at times the film has the characters explaining the plot out loud to themselves, and at others – especially during the slightly soggy middle third – the story’s sentimental bent tips over into outright gooiness: although I believe it has the best of intentions, and Rosemary Harris delivers the lines with great tenderness, Aunt May’s ‘everybody needs a hero’ bit is too much for me.

Still, the film is to be congratulated for fully considering the burden of saving people’s lives on the superhero, and since the soggy part picks up to an impressive balls-to-the-wall finale, including a thrilling subway train sequence (religious imagery and all) and Doc Ock kidnapping MJ but ultimately doing the right thing, a pause for breath is not entirely a bad thing.

Spider-Man 2 is by no means perfect but manages to achieve an all-too-rare balance between action and characterisation, mass-market appeal and comic-book fandom, young and old and (perhaps most interestingly) male and female interest, winding up with a happy-tense ending for MJ and Peter and a clear set-up for Harry’s involvement in the third instalment. It may or may not be the best superhero movie out there, but it is one of the best paced, best written, and is almost certainly the most human.

The Ice Storm

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Benjamin Hood’s trysts with his neighbour’s wife Janey form part of a purely businesslike affair, an aside to life with his increasingly troubled wife Elena and their precocious daughter Wendy. Janey’s sons Mikey and Sandy are both in love with the girl but the parents are too busy to notice what the children are up to, their negligence culminating in tragedy.

The phrase ‘period drama’ instantly conjures images of horse-drawn carriages, noisy balls and troubled bosoms heaving under tight bodices, as in Pride and Prejudice or Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. Although this period drama, based on a Rick Moody novel, only takes us back as far as the Connecticut suburbia of 1973, the landscape is as different and alien as if it had been written by Austen in the 1800s.

Benjamin Hood (Kevin Kline) lives in the town of New Canaan with his wife Elena (Joan Allen) and adolescent daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci), who much to Ben’s annoyance rails constantly against Nixon’s TV pronouncements. His main distraction, however, lies next door with the sensuous Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver); and though there is little passion to their affair, it gives Janey something to do whilst her husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan) is away.

She’s certainly not much bothered with looking after her sons Mikey (Elijah Wood), with whom Wendy is experimenting, or Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd), himself infatuated with the girl next door: whenever, that is, he’s not blowing up his toys. Meanwhile, Wendy’s older brother and Fantastic Four fan Paul (Tobey Maguire) also has sex on his mind, though his pursuit of lovely fellow student Libbets (Katie Holmes) seems destined to fail as his friend Francis (David Krumholtz), more experienced and suave with the ladies, has introduced himself first.

Feeling the chill descend in their marriage, Elena looks for ways to recapture the excitement of her youth, but neither the local new-age Reverend, cycling nor shoplifting give her the feeling she desires. When Ben’s affair is all but confirmed to her, she insists that they both go to a swinging ‘key party’ hosted by friends; but the night ends in humiliation for both adults, while their offspring, left to themselves, go out into the vicious and dangerous ice storm that has descended over the county.

I’ve left the description of the plot as spoiler-free as possible since The Ice Storm is really a film that should not be spoilt before a first watch. What I will say is that for a film that is at its heart a small story about two neighbouring families, and covering a very small time period – the second half of the film is given over to the night of the storm – it covers an enormous amount of thematic ground.

Firstly, there is the political backdrop of a country uneasy with itself and its leader; but more pressingly there is the social backdrop of an affluent middle class that doesn’t know what to do with itself. The free love of the 60s has been formalised into the joyless ceremony of the key party, and the children can hardly be blamed for their experimentation since the adults provide such poor examples (there is a very awkward, and very funny, scene where Benjamin tries to give his son guidance in the etiquette of self-abuse).

The Ice Storm gives us both the parents’ view of their pubescent children and the children’s view of the dysfunctional parents, whilst also highlighting in every single adult character the loneliness and unhappiness of their supposed sexual ‘freedom’ (Elena and Jim’s abortive fumblings are particularly uncomfortable to watch).

But this is telling only half the story, for The Ice Storm is simply a great film. The immaculate recreation of 70s life – the hair, the clothes, the houseware, the waterbed – is spot-on, and helps to generate an utterly convincing mood, enhanced by Lee’s unfussy direction which sparingly uses images of ice-covered trees to reflect the frozen emotions of the families, culminating in the tragic denouement which is at once poetic, haunting and memorable.

What’s more, Lee coaxes unbelievably good performances from stars of all ages, Kline lending understated comedy to his role but remaining credible (the moment he carries Ricci home is a beautiful and rare piece of parent-child bonding), Allen and Weaver exhibiting quiet desperation in very different ways. Most of the younger actors have gone on to prove themselves in ‘bigger’ films but can hardly have been better than they are here: Ricci mixes an assertion of her grown-upness with a very childlike innocence, whilst Hann-Byrd is convincingly troubled by her approaches.

And even though Paul’s story strand (he visits Libbets and Francis in her New York apartment for a bungled night of debauchery) is the least involving of the three, there are valuable echoes to the main story in the neglect of Libbets’ parents, and the feeling that Paul could easily have suffered the same fate as…well, that would be saying.

More than anything, The Ice Storm is a meditation on families that don’t quite work, for no particular reason a favourite topic of mine. Added to its immaculate recreation of both the look and atmosphere of a difficult period of history, and a host of superb, unstarry performances, it resonates on a profound emotional level, even if the emotions are not always comfortable. I love the film, but understand exactly why the same reasons could leave many a viewer out in the cold.

Toy Story 3*

WFTB Score: 16/20**

The plot: The day had to come: Andy, faithful owner of Woody, Buzz and his assorted other toys, is going to college. Although Woody is chosen to go with him, the others are mistakenly put out with the rubbish, with the result that they all end up in a Day Care centre where the resident toys’ warm welcome hides a sinister ulterior motive. Woody escapes and has the option of living a comfortable life with a loving new owner; but the sheriff feels honour-bound to ride to the rescue one last time.

Woody (voiced, as always, by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) have become so desperate for Andy to play with him that he and the gang resort to stealing his phone for attention. Andy, however, is all grown up and just days away from going to college, so the plan is doomed to failure; worse, Andy is forced into a tidy-up by his mother and all the toys bar Woody are put in a bin liner and almost thrown out, rather than being put in the attic.

The toys manage to escape, but the close shave convinces them that they have no place in Andy’s home; and when they get dropped off at the Sunnyside Day Care centre, it seems to be the best outcome all round, especially since the centre seems to be the equivalent of Toy Paradise. Sunnyside’s incumbent toys – the cutesy Lotso’ Hugging bear (Ned Beatty), his right-hand metrosexual man (and Barbie’s best friend) Ken (Michael Keaton), and the muscle, Big Baby – are carefully played with and adored, so Andy’s toys, tired of being abandoned, decide to stay put; only Woody, whom Andy had decided to take to college, believes that he owes it to his owner to return, though his escape only gets as far as the cosy bedroom of Bonnie, the daughter of the woman who runs the nursery.

There, he learns the terrible truth of Sunnyside: Lotso may well smell of strawberries, but underneath the cuddly exterior there’s a bitter and cynical mind. For while Lotso and his friends get all the attention, they need victims such as Jesse, Rex and Slinky to occupy the destructive toddlers who run riot in the Caterpillar room from where there is seemingly no escape. Buzz also discovers the secret, but at a cost: he is re-programmed and becomes his friends’ ruthless jailer. Luckily, Woody hears about the truth of Sunnyside just in time to stage a rescue, although the prison break is a complex operation. Even if they can get free of the building, Lotso’s wrath makes sure that the road back to Andy’s is a more dangerous adventure than anything they’ve encountered before.

Because Woody, Buzz, Hamm, Rex, the Potato Heads, Slinky, Jesse, Bullseye and the three-eyed aliens are all such well-drawn characters (in every sense, not least the wonderful voice acting from the whole cast), it’s hugely tempting to look at Toy Story 3, go ‘aah, it’s good to see the gang again’ and give the movie a free ride. But it’s my duty to be objective, and as such I have to say that Toy Story 3 is an absolute mixture of absence making the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeding – not contempt, not at all, but a little bit of déjà vu. Whether it’s the theme of the child growing older and moving on, Woody getting separated from his colleagues, or any one of the film’s insanely daring rescues/escapes, it has been seen before in either Toy Story, Toy Story 2, or both, though here the tension is at times unbearable, making you wonder if Pixar are actually going to do the unthinkable.

Against that, there’s the massive counterweight that Pixar do this kind of thing so damn well. And I don’t mean technically, though as always you instantly forget that you’re watching pixels, and there’s an obvious step up from the last film in the level of the animation; no, I mean in terms of telling the story, as the film efficiently goes about its business whilst ratcheting up both the sense of danger and the sentiment. Although there’s nothing quite as heart-wrenching as Jessie’s song to be found here, there’s still plenty to tug at the heartstrings, and moments of superb physical comedy too, such as when Mr Potato Head is briefly transformed into the floppy, Dali-esque Mr Tortilla Head. The film alternates between jokes and tender moments (‘Spanish’ Buzz’s wooing of Jessie showcases both nicely) with consummate ease.

More importantly, perhaps, the new toys are all delightful, even the boo-hiss Lotso; Bonnie’s outrageous thesp toy Mr Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) is particularly good fun, and of course the most is made of Ken’s identity crisis (‘I am NOT a girl’s toy!’ he says, protesting too much). Toy Story 3 is the product of a team that clearly love their work and know what they’re doing, and while nothing can bring back the amazement caused by the original, this second sequel doesn‘t drag for a second.

Though it may be an act of the utmost naïveté, I don’t believe Pixar would’ve made Toy Story 3 if their only reason for doing so was to make money. The love shown by the creators for the characters is real, even if it understandably finally tips over into indulgence as Andy says a long goodbye to his toys (I think it’s officially called a Return of the King ending). But you can’t really complain about that, because Pixar have created a set of lovely characters and treated them well: quite right too, since they’ve treated Pixar very nicely in return. Toy Story 3 really has to be the last hurrah for Woody and his pals, but so long as the toys are now put away this is a very funny, touching and impressive way for the crew to sign off***.

NOTES: 1Just to be clear, I saw the 2D version of the film, and while I can see that bits of the film would have looked fabulous in 3D, it’s the immersion offered by the story and the characters that really counts.

2This was originally scored a 14 on the basis of a single viewing at the pictures. Multiple home viewings (thanks to an engrossed small child) have convinced me that the film is rather better than that; specifically in respect of its writing, which tells a potentially complex story with great clarity and a deft touch for foreshadowing and callbacks. On the other hand, I’ve now seen the film so many times I’ve noticed one big flaw: Jessie and Buzz have been around each other for 10 years and he’s still nervously courting her?

3This whole last paragraph was quite obviously written before any inkling that Toy Story 4 would be made, as indeed it is. Cash cows must be milked, I suppose.