When a film is advertised as being "fun for the whole family" very rarely does the whole family find it fun to watch. The child is amused, maybe, and will probably watch it several thousand times more if only for background noise, but that's about it. The adults, for the most part, are bored. As are the teenagers, and as are the kids that fall into that difficult to define "older children" demographic. We've all seen these "family friendly" films before, maybe with slightly different characters or situations, but with the same overall plot, jokes and stereotypes. The term "family film" has come to mean "film in which my two-year-old will force me to go to and will invariably involve the line 'say hello to my little friend' spoken horribly out of context" It seemed, for quite a while, that a film in which the entire family - mom, dad, older sibling, younger sibling, baby - could be entertained and take something from just didn't exist. A film was either a "children's movie" a "teen movie" or an "adult movie" There was no crossover.
Then came Pixar.
Suddenly you saw adults of all ages, twenties, thirties, all the way up to their seventies or eighties lining up to see Finding Nemo, a movie that, at it's core, is a children's cartoon about fish. Legitimate film critics were raving about the last fifteen minutes of Ratatouille, while college students all over the world were writing papers on the political connotations of Wall-E. Grown men, people who have never shed a single tear in their life, were bawling during the opening of Up! a movie which, along with Disney's Beauty and the Beast, is one of only two animated movies to have ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The rise of Pixar is a phenomenon of unparalleled proportions, somehow managing to raise family fare to an art form and never let it fall.
So how does Pixar do it? How does this tiny company, which began in 1979 as a software company, create such beautiful films that the Academy itself is forced to acknowledge them?
Much as how John Hughes achieved success by making "films about teenagers" rather than just "teen movies" Pixar succeeds by telling stories rather than just making "kids movies". The studio does not go out to make the next G-Force or Marmaduke, it doesn't set it's sights on creating the next big "kids movie" it simply starts with a story. Is the story necessarily a kid's story? Not really. A robot left alone on a post-apocalyptic Earth doesn't exactly scream "kid's fare" and yet, the story was told. It's not that Pixar doesn't create films with children in mind, every story they tell is very carefully crafted to be one that a child could understand, they simply don't feel the need to rely on previously conceived "kids movie" cliches to make it into a successful movie for kids. Their stories are some of the most honest tales currently in Hollywood, stories that rely on legitimate emotion rather than the same repeated joke. They are films before they are "kids movies" and can thus be held on the same pedestal as traditional "adult" fare.
Never was this ability put into more effect than in Pixar's most recent film, the highly anticipated Toy Story 3. In this, Pixar proves once again that not only can they make a compelling, gorgeously put together sequel that almost rivals the original in quality, but they can create a film that is watchable, and re-watchable literally by all ages. The story is a heartbreaking look at childhood, being at once celebratory and tear-inducing. It honors childhood while examining and acknowledging it's eventual end, allowing the need to move on and grow up to not be a tragedy, but simply the next step.
The plot is, actually, pretty simple. Andy, the toy's owner, is going to college, and the toys are worried that this is the end of them. Through a few amusing mishaps, the gang ends up getting donated to a local daycare, a place that at first seems perfect - they will always be played with and will never be outgrown- but in fact turns out to be a rather frightening den of pain and despair, as the children of the daycare treat them like normal toddlers treat their toys as opposed to Andy's lovingly imaginative playtime.
Despite how nightmare inducing the entire daycare sequence is, I think it's one of the first lines you hear there that really gave me chills. Upon arrival, they are greeted by a large pink "Lots-o-Hugs" bear who tells them that, in daycare, there are no owners, and with no owners there is no pain and "no one to hurt them." I think it's the lack of feeling behind it that gets to me, especially once you get further into Lotso's character.
As a person who just recently left home and went to college, this movie personally hit me hard. It's difficult to say what moment made me cry first. Was it the moment young Andy's sister knocked down his play set and he just incorporated it into his toy fantasy? Was it when he rolled his eyes at his mother telling him to do something about his old toys and his conflicted look back at them as her request actually sinks in? Or was it the moment when the toys are faced basically with their own deaths and Jessie turns to Buzz and asks "What do we do?" and his only response is to take her hand and simply look at her in a way that says ten times more than any possible words could say?
It's hard to say. If I had to pick, it was probably the ending, which I would describe but I don't want to spoil. It was one of the most beautiful sequences I think I've ever seen in any movie, let alone an animated movie, and proves once again just how much of a command Pixar has over stories and emotions. Whatever age you are, you will be touched by this moment. Whether you are the adult saying goodbye to your child, the teenager getting ready to leave home, or the child still happily allowed to just sit and play with your toys, you will get caught up in the sheer poignancy of it and, yes, will most likely catch yourself shedding a tear.
The definition of a "family film" is one that can be enjoyed by every member of a family. Despite the derailment this definition has been suffering from lately, Pixar, and in particular Toy Story 3, has managed to single handedly resurrect the genre. Toy Story 3 is a movie that anyone can watch, and not feel like they're the wrong age to be watching it. It is a film with both comedy and heart, and a depth to it that surpasses much of today's adult fare while still being conceivable to kids. It is the type of movie I have been waiting to see, and one that I hope desperately to see more of.
Pixar has indeed done it again. Long may they rein.