Monday, November 15, 2010

Double Feature Review: Role Models and Toy Story 3

Role Models

Two irresponsible men are forced to volunteer as mentors to complete a term of community service.

The bad news first:
The overall direction of the movie is pretty predictable. You mean two selfish kids are paired up with a couple of children who they don't really care for? Gee, I wonder if they'll grow to admire and respect each other in a heartwarming way. The storyline itself does this in a reasonably fun and engaging way, though.

A few of the double entendre jokes are a little flat, which is unfortunate considering Jane Lynch gets a good deal of them. Luckily, the dialogue related to her questionable past more than makes up for it.

The good stuff:
It goes along at a pretty good clip and the humor generally keeps pace. The story hangs on differing personalities, and there are plenty of those to go around. The relationship between the near-opposite characters of Paul Rudd's world-weary Danny and Christopher Mintz-Plasse's fantasy-driven Augie gets the best results. The pair-up of Seann William Scott's Wheeler and Bobb'e J. Johnson's Ronnie relies more on raunchy jokes, though most of them are pretty good.

When the movie leans more on the dramatic side, it's surprisingly effective. There's nary a chuckle to be found in the dinner between Danny, Augie, and Augie's mother and stepfather, but it's well-written and believable. The live action roleplaying scenes are also hilarious and impressively choreographed, and while many of the jokes related to them fall along the same general lines it's clear that everyone is having a good time.

Worth a visit.

Toy Story 3

Synopsis: Amid uncertainty over their future as 17-year-old Andy prepares for college, the toys are mistakenly donated to a daycare center.

The bad news first:
Pixar's last few films have been children's films with some pretty serious, more adult-oriented story lines. I've seen some question over whether the studio has taken this too far, allowing their films to slide too much into darker, heartrending themes. They definitely have gone a little more somber in recent years; WALL-E and Up were both more than a little symbolic and dealt with heavier issues than earlier movies. By now, everyone probably knows that they're going to go into a Pixar movie and have tears in their eyes at some point.

Toy Story 3 may have gone a little too dramatic in some areas. There's one scene that I won't spoil, which everyone who has seen the movie will be able to point out, that is incredibly dark for what is ostensibly a children's movie but works amazingly well. By contrast, a shot in which three forgotten toys are standing in a field under a sepia-toned, cloud-scudded sky seems to be trying a little too hard to bring the audience down.

The good stuff:
Toy Story 2 focused mostly on Woody's dilemma between being admired forever by children as a museum piece or staying with Andy but running the risk that his owner will outgrow and abandon him. Though Woody opts to stay with Andy, it's a little bittersweet since he acknowledges that he's just going to have to enjoy the time he has left. Sure enough, Toy Story 3 picks up with Woody and Buzz and all the rest buried in the toy chest. The 11-year gap between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 is quite a jump, and Pixar adjusts accordingly. Even the youngest viewers who saw the first sequel when it came out would be in their early teens now, no doubt thinning out or exiling their own ranks of playthings.

The early trailers seemed to suggest that Andy would simply be punted off in favor of some prolonged silliness at a daycare center. Once it became clear that it was going to delve deeper into the themes of Toy Story 2, my confidence was restored. Despite the underlying serious themes, there's quite a bit to keep you laughing. In particular, the narrative of Andy's playtime at the beginning and Buzz Lightyear accidentally reprogrammed in Spanish are hilarious. The story, as always, keeps you caring about each and every one of the characters from the start to the finish. It yanks your heartstrings pretty hard, but it's not like Disney has never done that before and it's extremely fitting given the plot.

Another winner from Pixar. What did you expect?

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