So, I finally saw Toy Story 3 this weekend. I loved it—Michael Keaton as clotheshorse Ken was perfect casting, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head always make me laugh, and whoever played that dramatic porcupine deserves an Academy Award. And, yes, my suspicions were not confirmed—they didn’t all die in the end, however much Eric’s comment may have convinced me otherwise. That said, what I loved the most was the story’s inventiveness and use of place.
Let’s face it, as Hollywood budgets for summer blockbusters expand, the sets get bigger, the special effects nastier, and the locations trendier. Except Toy Story 3. Think back, most of the action took place in a daycare center. The other parts of the movie were set in Andy’s house and a trash dump. Not exactly Pirates, right? Yet these set limitations set the writers’ imaginations on fire—adding a baroque texture to an otherwise boring series of sets. The toy phone turns into Deepthroat, the children’s cubbies are prisons, and Ken’s plastic dream house is in fact a mansion. Ultimately, Andy’s house is home, the daycare the dramatic arena, and the dump the Hell the toys must overcome to get back.
Clint Eastwood, who probably never sat through any Toy Story movie, also does a good job establishing place on a minimal budget. In Million Dollar Baby, there are three main sets: the gym, the ring, and later the hospital. The gym is where Maggie learns, the ring where she proves herself, and the hospital where she finally lets go. It’s the simplicity of the ideas, and their presentation, that draws me to his direction. Where other directors try to take us to a million places to see one thing, Eastwood reveals several truths about living (and dying) in a set number of scenes and locations.
Look, a director’s job is to be observant, to see new things in old places. I know how important having that big budget is, but if Pixar and Eastwood can do things with so few set pieces, then I can’t help but think I can too. It’s that quiet revelation, the chemistry between two actors, or that depth of focus shot which keeps me interested in the story long after the effects of the special effects wear off.
What do you think? How do you approach movies with multiple sets? Why is Toy Story 3 such a good movie—or is it?