In the last 15 years, computer-generated animation has changed drastically, mostly thanks to the high standard that Pixar Animation Studios set with the release of TOY STORY in 1995. This was followed by an enjoyable 1999 sequel and few missteps in the Pixar canon since. Now, through its clever and heartwarming story and Randy Newman‘s score, TOY STORY 3 brings the successful trilogy to a satisfying close.
As I said last year in my review of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, I’m usually not a big fan of Newman’s animation scores. I much prefer his work on live action films like RAGTIME and THE NATURAL. And with so many changes in mood and the tendency toward Mickey Mousing, the frenetic nature of animated scores remain a challenge as a stand alone listening experience for many film music fans. TOY STORY 3 doesn’t offer up much in the way of originality, and it is probably best taken one cue at a time rather than as a cohesive whole, but it is a richer extension of the earlier scores in the trilogy.
Fans of the first two installments will recognize numerous theme snippets, but this time around Newman really excels in his use of musical atmosphere. The lazy guitar and harmonica Southern twang of the “Sunnyside” Daycare Center belies the darkness hidden in the shadows of the toy boxes. Newman’s sly humor is evident in the combination of militaristic rigidity and harmonica menace in “Bad Buzz.” I loved the mandolin, accordion and solo violin pathos and Lalo Schifrin’s stealthiness of Lotso’s story in “You Got Lucky.”
Some of the funniest moments in the film occur when Buzz is reprogrammed to speak in Spanish. The situations and subtitles made me laugh as did Newman’s Spanish-flavored inflections in the music, including a rousing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” in Spanish, sung by the Gipsy Kings over the end credits.
Newman writes fairly standard animated action music, but the metallic sounds of “The Claw” are truly frightening. Thanks to the music, it was at that moment that I realized how emotionally invested in the story I was. The toys hold onto each other for dear life as they slide down into the dump’s fiery pit while Newman’s music makes our palms sweat as we contemplate their demise.
But the film and score are moving inexorably toward the story’s poignant finale. It took me a few weeks to see the film and I had already heard from friends and read reports about grown men sobbing at the ending, so I was prepared to be an emotional basket case. And probably to no one’s surprise, I was. It is here that the score really packs an emotional wallop. Newman’s deceptively simple cue conveys a myriad of complex emotions as we say goodbye to childhood innocence and these beloved characters.
John Powell set the bar high earlier this year with his score for the animated HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. Newman’s score doesn’t match that level, but it is charming and delivers humor, excitement and emotional resonance. You may not be aware of the music while watching the film but the score benefits in later listens from having seen it. The score is only available as a download through Amazon and iTunes.