Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and Monster’s Inc. co-director Lee Unkrich returns to helm the latest (and final?) entry in Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, co-written by Pixar staples John Lassetter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich.
It’s not often that Pixar considers putting out a sequel, so you know they have something special for you when you when they do. Everyone knows they’re one of the rare studios that can continuously put out first-class entertainment without relying on gimmicks or advertise on recognizable celebrity voices. They create their art in a very honest and pure way, and stand by it fully.
Toy Story 3 picks up years after the previous installment, and similar to their previous film Up, immediately thrusts you upon a surprisingly relatable situation filled with heartbreak, and serves as the driving force to the story.
It’s easy to feel like no time has passed at all with these characters, as if we’re just picking up from where we left off. It all feels natural. The vast technology improvements in the CGI since the last film are evident but subtle, retaining the recognizable style set by the previous films. While several objects, sets and sequences touch near photo-realism, it never feels out of place.
There wasn’t much to fault with the film. It was a fantastic extension to the saga, and felt very much like a closing of the book. It’s an arguably near-perfect film, hitting all the right notes with nary a misstep and with the emotion, humor and excitement we’ve come to expect from both the studio and the series. It can sit equally and proudly next to its predecessors.
It’s a fact of life that some of the best looking titles on Blu-ray are 3D animated films. In other cases, when doing an analog (film) to digital transfer, there are many different factors that dictate the quality of the final image on the disc. With CGI films, it’s almost always a direct digital-to-digital transfer, with not much standing in the way.
Pixar’s previous efforts on Blu-ray have all been top notch video, and Toy Story 3 is no exception. Coming from a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (the Blu-ray is opened up slightly to 1.78:1 to fit 16×9 screens) and a 2K (just slightly above 1080p) digital intermediate master, the video quality is superlative in every way.
Detail is stunning. In many wide shots, you can still make out eyeballs and pupils in characters that take up hardly a small percentage of the screen. Grass and trees can appear to be even more detailed than real life. The textures of the plethora of toys in the film are palpable and intricate.
Contrast is exemplary, black levels are solid and shadow detail is some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Two things that need to be singled out and praised are the artists’ eye for color palette and lighting. There’s likely not a single color in the world that’s not displayed in this film. Pixar’s tools and knack for lighting have become so fantastic that almost every shot in this movie could be singled out as a beautiful painting. The combination of color, lighting and contrast make this movie and disc not only a technical marvel, but an artistic one as well.
Toy Story 3 marks a milestone in film audio history, as it boasts the very first true 7.1 theatrical soundtrack. While it was shown in Dolby 7.1 Surround in theatres, it comes to Blu-ray in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, which seems to be the current favorite codec for most studios. The disc also features a DTS-HD 5.1-ES track for those without a 7.1 system, but I still recommend the 7.1 track, as your player or receiver should down-mix it properly. It’s up to you.
The lossless audio mix is no slouch, but I have to admit, it’s much more restrained than I expected. Clarity and detail are superb, as animated film audio often tends to have. Having to create and assemble everything you see on screen from scratch, and recording all voices in sound booths really does wonders.
Dialog clarity is top notch and well prioritized with no intelligibility issues. Dynamic range is excellent, and allows for many cues both subtle and surprising. LFE content is well utilized, most often for moments of shock, surprise and impact. The simple shutting of a van trunk resonates as a loud thoom from the perspectives of the toys, and such moments are explored with creativity. Music, once again by Randy Newman (who I had no idea also does the actual score for the films), is a bit front-heavy but well reproduced.
I would have liked a bit more creative and aggressive use of the surrounds, including ambient sounds, more akin to Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and Bug’s Life. Their latest films (Wall-E, Up) have all been a bit more reserved than usual, but they still deliver an extremely solid, balanced presentation.
Here’s hoping for more true 7.1 theatrical tracks!
Special Features/Bonus Content
Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray contains the following bonus content:
- Day & Night – The innovative and entertaining short from the imagination of Pixar artist and Director Teddy Newton.
- Toys! – A closer look at all of Toy Story 3’s beloved toys from updating the classic characters to the creation of the Sunnyside Daycare and Bonnie’s Room toys.
- Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science of Adventure – Produced in conjunction with NASA, this hybrid animation documentary of Buzz’s visit to the International Space Station focuses on research in zero gravity and Buzz’s triumphant return to Earth.
- Paths to Pixar: Editorial – Pixar editors, past and future share anecdotes about their careers.
- The Gang’s All Here – A touching look at the returning voice talent for Toy Story 3 and an introduction to the voices of the new characters.
- A Toy’s Eye View: Creating A Whole New Land – A sneak peek at the new Toy Story-themed playland at Hong Kong Disneyland.
- Studio Stories – A series of amusing animated anecdotes about life at Pixar.
- “Where’s Gordon?” – An animator finds a hidden room at Pixar.
- “Cereal Bar” – The majestic and expansive Pixar cereal bar is explored.
- “Clean Start” – The Toy Story 3 animators shave their heads to mark the start of the film.
- Toy Story Trivia Dash – This cool game challenges you to sprint to the finish with Woody, Buzz, Jessie and Rex as you quickly answer questions about all three Toy Story movies.
- Cine-Explore – Commentary by Director Lee Unkrich and Producer Darla K. Anderson.
- Beyond the Toybox: An Alternative Commentary Track Featuring Leads from Story, Tech, Art and Animation – Commentary by Story Supervisor Jason Katz, Supervising Technical Director Guido Quaroni, Production Designer Bob Pauley and Supervising Animators Bobby Podesta and Michael Venturini.
- Beginnings: Setting A Story In Motion – Screenwriter Michael Arndt analyzes successful opening scenes from Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.
- Bonnie’s Playtime: A Story Roundtable – A roundtable discussion with Director Lee Unkrich and the story artists who brought the “Bonnie’s Playtime” scene to life.
- Roundin’ Up A Western Opening – The development of the movie’s exciting opening scene.
- Life Of A Shot – Toy Story 3 artists and technicians describe their contributions to a few of the shots in the film’s “Western Opening.”
- Goodbye Andy – An exploration of character design, acting and animation in the scene “Andy’s Goodbye.”
- Accidental Toymakers – By creating the Toy Story characters, the Pixar filmmakers found themselves in the unlikely role of toy designers. Meet the toy company that took a chance on manufacturing the now iconic toys and learn of their incredible success that began with a modest number of Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys 15 years ago.
- Making of Day & Night – The story behind the unique 2D/3D blended short.
Unsurprisingly, Pixar has brought us another classic in a long line of exemplary works, not only film-wise, but A/V quality as well. With a touching, exciting and funny story, pristine video quality and a great 7.1 audio track, this is a must-have title for all Blu-ray fans.