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Toy Story 3 Blu-ray Review

Full disclosure: I’m a fan of Pixar. One of my seminal moments reviewing movies and games came when THQ graciously held an event at the Pixar campus for their licensed WALL*E games, and I got to not only poke around Pixar HQ, but actually watch parts of WALL*E before its release inside one of Pixar’s screening theaters. All that background is to say that yes, I am predisposed to like Toy Story 3. Pixar’s got a knack for telling mature stories in a manner that’s fun and graphically appealing to young and old alike, but Toy Story 3 takes all that skill and ratchets it up to 11. There’s a reason it’s been the highest-grossing theatrical release so far in 2010. So just imagine the must-own factor of its recent release on Blu-ray Disc.

That must-own status isn’t just people being lemmings, though; Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray is flat out a fantastic package for a fantastic movie. Perhaps because I’m now a parent of two, Toy Story 3 resonates on a few more levels than the preceding two chapters did, making the film even more impactful than Toy Story 1 and 2. The tale of Andy going to college and facing his own inner demons about how much of his childhood to abandon, combined with the brief-but-now-meaningful snippets of his mom coming to terms with her son’s sudden adulthood, is just a perfect complement to the coming-of-age tale that Buzz, Woody and the rest of the toys fight through the rest of the film. This new maturity is a good thing, because the old toy/new toy dynamics were relatively exhausted in the past two films but still resurface here. Had Toy Story 3 not had this new depth and resonance, it wouldn’t be nearly as intriguing, but it does, so it is. And that, dear readers, is just one reason this Blu-ray Disc is a must-own.

The quality of the animation, of course, is a calling card of Pixar’s that nobody’s quite managed to match. Dreamworks has come close, but Pixar’s the master of the craft and it shows throughout Toy Story 3. Fortunately, that mastery comes through loud and clear in the transfer to Blu-ray, as the high-contrast colors absolutely jump from the screen and the nuanced details are never lost. CG films tend to look great on HDTVs, but even where CG Blu-rays are concerned, Toy Story 3 takes HD visuals to infinity and beyond. We’ve watched and reviewed the previous two entries, and as solid as their Blu-ray transfers may have been, Toy Story 3 looks better on Blu-ray than it did in a digital-projection theater. Home theater aficionados will definitely want to put this in their Blu-ray player and use it as a demo film. DVD simply couldn’t achieve this level of detail, clarity or vibrance.

From an audio standpoint, the 7.1 DTS Master Audio isn’t as impressive as the visuals, although that’s not any fault of the disc itself. It’s really just a two-fold issue: first, the video is so impressive that any other multimedia is bound to pale by comparison, and second, the film only makes sporadic use of the surround channels, as most of the audio comes through exposition in the front. Yes, there are some fun surround-sound moments, such as when Woody takes flight on a kite and you can hear the wind swirling around him and certain obstacles whiz past the camera. Or when the toys (frequently) crash things about and cause some positional audio effects. By and large, though, the center and front channels get the most use, which doesn’t really do a 7.1 setup justice.

Things pick up considerably with the bonus features, though, which are not only relevant and numerous, but pretty much well-done all around. All told, the Toy Story 3 Blu-ray includes 17 bonus features, all with varying lengths, but six of them really steal the show. The first, as you’d expect from a Pixar film, is the Day and Night animated short that preceded the film in the theaters. This film follows two solitary blob-like creatures whose bodies act as a “layer mask” to the day or night scene that exists behind them. Where things get really interesting is when the two overlap and/or compete to see whose scene — day’s or night’s — is more visually interesting. Eventually the two build up a sort of day/night envy, but when they predictably switch times, you’re still left feeling happy for them in spite of their obvious fate.

The Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science of Adventure bonus feature is another compelling one, if even just for the personal reason that I got to see a shuttle liftoff in person earlier this year and thus have a renewed fascination with all things NASA. In this feature, which continues the bonus feature model from the first two films’ Blu-ray release, Buzz guides viewers through the science of doing research in zero gravity and his eventual return to Earth. All those budding astronauts in your house will also find this compelling, as it’s a great bridge between the kid-friendly character and real-world science.

In the Toy Story Trivia Dash, which is only possible on a Blu-ray system, home viewers turn into game players as they take control of Buzz, Woody, Rex or Jessie and answer Toy Story trivia as quickly as possible to make their avatar sprint to the finish line. It’s somewhat reminiscent of those water-gun horseracing games at a carnival, but it’s free, it can be done from your sofa and it won’t get you wet. Another kid-friendly feature is A Toy’s Eye View: Creating a Whole New Land, which provides a glimpse into the new Toy Story-themed land being created at Hong Kong Disneyland. Again, just for full disclosure, I absolutely LOVE the Disney parks, so I’m naturally predisposed to getting off on this feature. But even with that aside, it’s neat to see how Disney’s taking concepts, themes and experiences from the film and turning them into real-world experiences at The Happiest Place in China. That is what they call it there, right?

Accidental Toymakers is a great follow-up to the Hong Kong Disneyland feature, as it covers how the Pixar crew ended up “creating” new toy designs that an outside vendor then had to produce for resale. When you think about it, the only toys Pixar really created in the first film were Woody, Buzz and the Aliens. Other than that, they were taking existing toys from the toy box and re-creating them on the big screen. In this film, however, Pixar created quite a few original products, so it’s fascinating to hear how a toy company manufactured real-life toys that look and work just like they do in the film.

The sixth feature that’s really a must-watch, particularly for parents, is called Goodbye Andy. I opened this review talking about how mature Toy Story 3 was, how that maturity was a good thing in light of the rest of its toolbox having already been used, and how much more the film’s “adult” themes resonate with me so much more now that I’m a father. Well, in this feature, we hear from Pixar’s finest how they designed, acted and animated the Andy character for the final scene in which he says goodbye. This has to be one of the most heartwarming yet wrenching scenes in animation history, and there were clearly opportunities for it to fail. Pixar could’ve botched the scene with a single misstep, a fact they obviously realized all too well judging by this feature. Instead they drilled it, and that send-off scene is a large reason the film is so powerful.

I’ll never forget my visit to Pixar, when they said “we don’t think of ourselves as animators. We think of ourselves as storytellers who just happen to use the animated medium.” Toy Story 3 is a masterful tale that just so happens to be CG. Fortunately for home viewers, it’s also a masterful Blu-ray Disc whose strong points more than compensate for its average audio and lack of 3D TV support. Perhaps the latter will come in a later release, but even if we can count on that happening, there’s still no shame in buying the current Blu-ray release and savoring every last minute. It’s really that good.

Click here to buy the Toy Story 3 (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) from Amazon.

Score: 9.3

— Jonas Allen

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