MovieMantz Review: ‘Toy Story 3’

“Every Pixar Tells a ‘Story’”

“Toy Story 3”
Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
Directed by Lee Unkrich

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Disney and Pixar have done it again, and in a very big way.

Ever since the release of 1995’s “Toy Story” — the computer-animated game-changer that started it all — the Northern California-based animation studio has topped itself with each passing film. That’s no small feat, given a body of work that includes “Toy Story 2” (1999), “Finding Nemo” (2003), “The Incredibles” (2004), “Ratatouille” (2007), “WALL*E” (2008) and “Up” (2009).

Now comes their 11th animated feature, “Toy Story 3,” which is not only the best “Toy Story” of them all (and that’s saying a lot), but it also continues Pixar’s extraordinary capacity for telling strong, clever and exciting stories that are filled with humor, heart and, most of all, imagination. To that extent, it’s safe to say that on a scale of one to ten, “Toy Story 3” goes to infinity — and beyond.

Then again, the fact that it succeeds as well as it does is a miracle in itself, since trilogies have an unfortunate tendency to go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Witness superior sequels like “The Godfather Part II,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Spider-Man 2,” which were followed by inferior threequels like “The Godfather Part III,” “Return of the Jedi” and “Spider-Man 3.”

Up to this point, the exception to the rule was the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but now, thankfully, you can add “Toy Story” to the list. What’s amazing is that “Toy Story 3” doesn’t just match its brilliant predecessor in terms of depth, excitement and humor; it exceeds it in just about every way. The eleven-year gap between installments works in the film’s favor, since that passage of time provides the strong emotional undercurrent that drives the story.

In “Toy Story 2,” Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jesse (Joan Cusack) and the rest of the old gang were worried that their owner, Andy, would outgrow them. In “Toy Story 3,” that time has come, and everyone’s taking it pretty hard — especially Woody. Now 17-years-old, Andy is off to college and needs to know what to do with his old toys. His first thought is to put them in the attic, where they’ll be safe and sound — and they’ll have each other for company.

But through a freak mishap, they find themselves at Sunnyside Day Care, where its toy patriarch, a teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty), promises that they’ll be played with by kids. Sounds too good to be true, and, of course, it is. Turns out that the kids are the toys’ worst nightmare, making Sunnyside feel more like a jail and Lotso its strict warden. Only Woody can save his friends, but even if he manages to succeed, what will become of them?

“Toy Story 3” raises the bar for how much a film can work on every level for both kids and adults (and adults who were kids when the first movie came out). Kids will marvel at the vibrant 3-D computer animation, the thrilling excitement and the lovable characters, while grown-ups will be immersed with deeper issues. If “Toy Story 2” was about identity and purpose, then “Toy Story 3” is about change and mortality. That may sound heavy, but that’s what makes it the best — and also, at times, the darkest — of the series.

In addition to the familiar cast of characters — including Hamm, Rex, Barbie and the Potatoheads — “Toy Story 3” introduces new toys, like Mr. Pricklepants, Trixie and Barbie’s soul mate, Ken. It all comes together in one brilliant, trilogy-capping masterpiece that will leave a lump in your throat and a smile on your face, thanks to the synergy between director Lee Unkrich (a co-director on “Toy Story 2”) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”).

And as Pixar comes full circle with “Toy Story 3,” it’s interesting to note just how much the computer-animated landscape has changed since 1995, when the first “Toy Story” was the only game in town. These days, almost every animated feature is computer-generated (most of them in 3-D), and since the inception of the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2002, eight out of the nine winners were computer-generated - and five of those were from Pixar.

It’s a foregone conclusion that “Toy Story 3” will continue that trend, so get ready to cue that broken record. That’s because Disney and Pixar are bound to do it again with their next film, and in a very big way, I’m sure.

Verdict: SEE IT!

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