The Toys Are Back In Town

Third time’s still the charm in the gracefully sweet Toy Story 3

Going into Toy Story 3 was a bit nerve-wracking considering the awful pattern most threequels have (Spider-Man 3, I’m talking to you). Disappointment is not the legacy that the imaginative and heartfelt Toy Story franchise deserves. Fortunately, Pixar defies the odds of three and delivers a winner to its audiences of young and old.

The story follows Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of our favorites as they’re all thrown into a state of panic with Andy packing up for college. Will the toys be trashed or sent to the attic? Mishaps ensue and the whole clan winds up at Sunnyside Day Care, where something isn’t quite right. The leader toy at Sunnyside, Lotso (Ned Beatty), goes from cuddly to ugly when the truth is unveiled. Woody and company then concoct an edge-of-your-seat prison break plan in hopes of getting back to their beloved owner.

Benefiting from 15 years of technological advances since the first film, vibrant colors and close attention to the tiniest details are once again showcased among the toys and the landscape. At times you’ll forget you’re watching animation and you’ll believe you’re one of them, eager to be included in the family adventure.

And that’s always been one of the brightest themes of the Toy Story films. Phones, computers and iPads clutter our daily lives, but Pixar plunges audiences into the most prevailing accessory of them all: the power of the imagination. The ending sequence of this film will surely bring tears as well as memories to viewers who’ve grown past the age of Woody and Buzz toys and into the realm of tech toys as college-bound Andy clutches his friends, maybe for the last time.

But before that moment is met, new faces grace the screen, voiced by such talents as Michael Keaton, Bonnie Hunt and a hilarious Timothy Dalton. Meanwhile, Hanks, Allen and Joan Cusack take us all back to ’95 and once again give fantastic life to these beloved toys. In fact, the amount of heart and friendship shown in these characters make many real life performances seem more plastic than the bodices of those toys.

Lee Unkrich (co-director of Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2) handles the direction here with ease. It’s smooth, solid, and moves with an excellent pace. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 writers John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton are back with some help from Little Miss Sunshine’s Michael Arndt. The team has constructed a story that is fun, thrilling, emotional and even a bit dark. Lotso’s chief cronies Big Baby and a mad-eyed, screeching monkey are creepy and downright scary. The G-rating flexes its power here, but Toy Story 3 remains kid-friendly.

But for this threequel to hold up to the brilliance of Pixar’s colorful palette—and then some—is thoroughly impressive. The animation geniuses always seem to hit the right sentimental tone on subjects such as friendship, family and the purpose of life—whether it’s an old, senile man seeking closure (Up), a rusty robot looking for love (Wall-E), or a father desperate to find his son lost at sea (Finding Nemo). Here, toys just want to be played with, and they will remain true to their loving owners until the very end.

But Toy Story 3 matures in this and understands that sometimes, you just have to let go. And although it’s set up for a possible fourth installment, its ending is sweet and final. So perhaps it’s time to finally let go of Toy Story as well, but Woody and the gang will continue to live on … to infinity and beyond.

Toy Story 3 (G) ★★★★☆

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