I should just cut and paste my review of Up from last year. As with that film, this is another fantastic work of art from Pixar that moved me more than most of the films I saw last year. Yet, I’m hard-pressed to call this speculative fiction. Again, I don’t really know why. The fantasy element of talking toys is fairly obvious, and I don’t really have the same problem with the two Pixar movies that did win Hugos, The Incredibles and Wall-E. Oh, those fuzzy genre lines.
It always feels dumb to do the plot synopses for the films that I know everyone reading this has seen. Anyway, toys talk and go on adventures when you’re not looking. They live for the pleasure of their owners, and, as we learned in the first two films, they have abandonment issues when their owner plays with a new toy more, or when he or she grows out of playing with toys, as happened to cowgirl Jessie in Toy Story 2. Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) are the unofficial leaders of the toys of a boy named Andy who’s about to head off to college. The toys are preparing themselves for the limbo of the attic, but Andy’s Mom accidentally gives the toys to a daycare, where they are horribly mutilated by kids. A group of daycare-veteran toys, led by Lots-O’-Huggin-Bear (Ned Beatty), run the daycare as a fascist dictatorship, and soon Andy’s toys have to mount a daring escape. This is the film’s best sequence, and it culminates in some very dramatic scenes. Honestly, despite everything I know about Pixar and the target audience of this film, they still had me convinced, for a few seconds at least, that the toys were all going to die a horrible death. That’s how good they are as storytellers.
I read an essay by Michael Chabon recently where he condemned the first film for making a villain out of the kid who tortured and disassembled his toys. I’ve also read a review condemning the film for portraying the toys as happy slaves. These are actually pretty well-thought out essays (at least the Chabon one is), but they mostly just point to the silliness in taking the premise too seriously. I think maybe that’s where we can draw that genre line. There’s nothing speculative about sentient toys. It’s not a thought-experiment (though the daycare prison-camp mafia comes closer than anything else in the franchise before). It is a set of metaphors for friendship and aging. You can, and probably will, take the character relationships seriously, and if you’re anything like me, those will resonate with you on an emotional level, but you shouldn’t really pay much mind to the premise. That right there is how I justify my own gut reaction that this isn’t really in the Hugo wheelhouse. But, it still is a great film. Unlike last year, however, I do think that there is another Hugo-nominated film that I would take over the Pixar movie, with or without genre constraints.