Toy Story 3 Read-Aloud Storybook. Adapted by Christine Peymani. Illustrated by Caroline Egan, Adrienne Brown, Scott Tilley, and Studio IBOIX. Random House. $9.99.
Toy Story 3: The Junior Novelization. Adapted by Jasmine Jones. Random House. $4.99.
The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out! By Troy Cummings. Random House. $16.99.
It is easy to be cynical about the continuing drive in the movie industry to remake movies and make extensions of ones that were, in their time, original. But as usual with productions by Pixar (now part of Disney), it is not so simple to dismiss Toy Story 3. In fact, the film represents a significant technical advance over Toy Story 2, which in turn went significantly beyond the technical capabilities of the original Toy Story. That Pixar manages to retain its skill at telling emotionally gripping stories – connecting with the audience through characters that exist and function only or mostly as lines of computer code or tiny models – is evidence of these animators’ special skill, and it is a skill every bit as important as their technical wizardry. In fact, the productions of other animation groups often match or nearly match those of Pixar, but what Pixar films have that the others do not is something refreshingly old-fashioned: heart. For that reason alone, books based on Toy Story 3 are worth reading as something more than movie souvenirs. No, they cannot display the 3-D effects of the film, and no, they cannot match its pacing or include all the wisecracks and emotionally fraught looks that the characters exchange. But the books can include enough visual images and enough of the film’s plot to make the reading experience worthwhile – and the book-viewing experience, too. As a matter of fact, Toy Story 3: Read-Aloud Storybook, although intended for ages 3-8, is more effective (although less comprehensive in story line) than Toy Story 3: The Junior Novelization, which is aimed at readers ages 8-12. The reason is that Pixar communicates so much of the story, and of the characters’ relationships, visually – and the Read-Aloud Storybook is packed with visuals from start to finish. The Junior Novelization does include eight pages of movie stills, but they are small and do not deliver the visual punch of the pictures in the Read-Aloud Storybook. On the other hand, The Junior Novelization gives the story more completely, and includes some lines more suitable for older readers – such as “Come on, Romeo, we’re late” (said when Ken is pulled away from Barbie), and Slinky’s “I’ve got a kink in my slink.” The reality is that neither of these Toy Story 3 books takes the place of the film itself, and both will be of interest only to kids who have seen and enjoyed the movie. But the further reality is that they will be fun for kids who liked the film, and even if they cannot fully capture the visual experience of this sequel to a sequel, they are quite enjoyable on their own terms.
The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out! is a sequel of an entirely different kind – an expansion of the nursery rhyme about the arachnid that goes up and down the water spout. And a very clever expansion it is, too. Troy Cummings starts with the rhyme itself, but breaks it off before the spider climbs back up the spout. Instead, he says the spider “freaked out” about being washed down the spout, and he has her vow, “I’m sticking to the ground from now on.” However, encouraged by her ladybug friend, Polly, Eensy eventually agrees to try a little climbing once more, and she discovers – as she goes higher and higher on various objects -- that she is no longer afraid of continuing to climb. In fact, she recaptures so much climbing enthusiasm that Polly cannot keep up with her – but “I’m just warming up!” says Eensy. And the things she climbs get more and more outlandish, from a fire hydrant to a dog to a mailbox to a house roof (which she reaches by climbing up that water spout – not even realizing she has done so). Eventually Eensy climbs higher than Polly can fly, and figures out ways to go higher and higher still – at which point Cummings tries to end the book on a page proclaiming “The End.” But Eensy won’t let him stop there: “It’s not over yet! I can climb way higher than that!” And so she does, in increasingly surprising ways that eventually give her “the best view any bug had ever seen.” The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out! is amusingly written, nicely illustrated and a whole lot of just plain fun. And it’s a great sequel to the original nursery rhyme – a wonderful book to read when young kids ask about that spider story, as they very well may at some point, “But what happened next?”