I was really into movies growing up.  Every weekend, my friends and I would hop into a car (usually our brown Mercury Marquis LS that we nicknamed "Grandma’s Tank") and we would drive from Albion to the next city of any real size, Jackson, where we would go to watch movies.  Before the movie, we’d go to Meijer to get food, or I’d go to the candy store in the mall across the street to load up on Jelly Bellies (I love me some Jelly Belly Jelly Beans!)  It wasn’t uncommon for me to see two or three movies in a weekend. 

I saw everything that came out.  From 1994 through 1996, I had managed to force down some incredible movies and some real stinkers.  (Cutthroat Island, The Brady Bunch Movie, and The Arrival, to name a few of the stinkers.) I went to movies I knew I wasn’t going to like because, as previously mentioned, I saw everything

I remember going to the theater for the opening weekend of the original Toy Story.  I honestly wasn’t looking forward to it that much.  The Toy Story trailers I had seen just didn’t look that interesting.  I have always had a love affair with animation, but this computer animation didn’t look all that good to me, and the story didn’t seem that engaging.  (As a side note, Pixar has always had amazing movies, but their movie trailers are never very enticing. They just don’t portray how incredible the films are.  The only exception to the pattern was the first teaser trailer to The Incredibles which didn’t really tell you much about the movie, but still managed to tell you a bunch about the movie–all while being hysterical.)

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As I sat in the theater on that Wednesday evening, thrilled to be out of school for the Thanksgiving holiday, and completely unprepared for what I was about to experience.  From the opening moments of the scene with Andy playing with his toys, I was completely entranced with Toy Story.  I was carried away with delight over everything.  I had fancied myself a hard-nosed movie critic (as a 17 year old boy), but Toy Story was such an amazing accomplishment, both technically and artistically, that I found myself completely unable to analyze the movie and fully lost in the story.

I ended up going back to see Toy Story a total of five times in the movie theater.  Each time I went back, I was taken aback by something I hadn’t noticed before: the texture of the grass and trees on the street outside, the musical underscoring, the funny little asides in the film (the house being sold by "Virtual Realty").  And despite repeated viewings, it never got old.

Toy Story II came out a few years later, and again, I approached it with trepidation.  I had a more-than passing loathing of unnecessary sequels.  Yet Pixar somehow managed to improve the technology, improve the story, and improve the emotion.  And they struck on something that would prove to be pivotal to their stories in the future: they weren’t afraid to make the audience cry.  I love a good weeper, and to this day, I still can’t see (or hear) the Jesse’s Song montage in Toy Story 2 without tearing up.

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I only managed to see Toy Story II in the theaters four times, because, well, I was in college, and was busy and poor.  But it quickly became my favorite Pixar movie, and even now, still holds the #2 slot.

Aside: If I had to rank the Pixar Movies in order from most to least favorite, they would be:

  1. Finding Nemo
  2. Toy Story II
  3. Wall-E
  4. Ratatouille
  5. Toy Story
  6. Up
  7. The Incredibles
  8. Cars
  9. A Bug’s Life
  10. Monsters Inc

And now, in five short days, Pixar will complete a 15-year journey with the release of Toy Story III.  After 15 years and 10 incredible films (Monsters Inc. was an incredible film…even though it’s my least favorite of the bunch) I no longer have any doubts about Pixar "screwing it up."  They know what they’re doing.  They do it better than anyone else.  I imagine that, at some point, they’ll have to put out a movie that just isn’t very good.  But I don’t see it happening this time, or any time soon.  They know how to tell a story, and I trust them enough that I am certain that they wouldn’t have put out another Toy Story movie unless they had another story to tell.  And from what I’ve heard of the internet scuttlebutt, I’m going to need to bring a hankie with me.

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The original Toy Story was about the magic and wonder of a new world, a child’s world.  It was populated with well-rounded and honest characters stuck in a completely novel scenario.  It was about the unending possibilities of this new digital technology as a masterful medium for storytelling.  And, for many people, it represented a more simple time.

A lot has happened in my life over the last 15 years.  I graduated from high school, college, and graduate school.  I moved 26 times.  I’ve loved and lost.  I’ve become hardened and jaded.  I’ve become an adult.  I have to pay my bills, and go to work every day.  Yet, the arrival of Toy Story 3 this coming Wednesday is like having your best childhood friend with whom you’ve lost touch show up on your doorstep and finding that you’re able to pick up exactly where you left off.  And he brought you a puppy!  I’ve spent the last 15 years fondly remembering and loving this story, these characters.  When they were released in 3D as a double feature last year, I was transported back again despite the fact that I’ve probably seen these movies a dozen time apiece.  And this coming Wednesday, I will be right there in the theater, ready to say hello to my old friends again.

I may not be able (or even want) to go back to my old 17-year-old self driving a big, gas guzzling Mercury Marquis to a theater in Jackson, Michigan to load up on Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.  However, you can rest assured that on Wednesday night, I’ll be right there in the theater with my Jelly Bellies.  I’m 15 years older, but I’m just as excited now as I was 15 years earlier when the closing credits ran for the first time on Toy Story.

Thanks, Pixar, for making such amazing, inspiring, life altering art.  I can’t wait to see what you’ve done this time.