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Third installments of franchises tend to mark the time when the audience checks out, but “Toy Story 3” feels just as fresh as the 1995 original. The gang is back and ready to face their biggest challenge yet, the end of Andy’s childhood and an unknown future.
The first few minutes of the film expose the brilliance of these films as we’re thrown into the imaginative world of Andy (John Morris) and his toys. Toys become something more than plastic and rubber in the hands of a child who lets the imagination roam free. Andy’s got it down…but that was years ago. Andy’s getting ready for college and all the toys’ attempts to get their owner to play with them one more time fail. After the bagged toys end up on their way to the dump rather than their original attic retirement, the crew makes their way to Sunshine Daycare where children keep coming and toys are never forgotten. It all seems fine until they learn that stuffed bear Lotso (Ned Beatty) has turned the facility into his own dictatorship. The gang must make their next move fast before they’re stuck in this playland dystopia forever.
Of all the Pixar films, “Toy Story” was the first film to launch Pixar as the king of 3D animation. Incredibly entertaining, what makes these films so magical is the continued chemistry between Woody and Buzz, the slapstick humor, and the new toys. My personal favorite is the stuffed animal, Totoro — it’s just fantastic to see the beloved Japanese cartoon character get some screen time from its American distributor, Disney.
As the rule of sequels goes, you gotta up the ante each time, and a third installment, even for a children’s film, becomes a life or death experience. Last year, “Up” proved just how grown-up Pixar could be, and “Toy Story 3” has a few of those moments as well — even getting a little darker at various points. Introducing a ringleader who controls all the other toys though, based on a tragic past, isn’t quite how I imagined an updated version of “The Godfather”, but it’s clever and pays off.
Along with the fear of toys becoming useless after their owner leaves the house, Woody and company reminisce about those who have gone. In a daring move, some familiar characters don’t return. Toys eventually get broken or lost and friendships come to an end and people pass on. True, the sentimentality may go a bit too far when an almost-college student is still so attached, but the connection here has always been between the toys while Andy is in the background.
As expected, Tom Hanks, as Woody, and Tim Allen, as Buzz Lightyear, lead the pack quite well with a stand-up team of supporters. Joan Cusack, as Jessie, keeps up the cowgirl spirit, while Don Rickles, as Mr. Potato Head, and Estelle Harris, as Mrs. Potato Head, feed off each other wonderfully. At the top of the newbies list, Michael Keaton voices a fantastic Ken doll, who loves his full wardrobe but desperately wants someone to share it all with…cue, Barbie, voiced by Jodi Benson.
“Toy Story 3” is the first truly good film to come out this summer. Flawless plotline and a true sense of fun is just what a family film needs. Enjoy the ride for what it is: the final chance for us to watch these splendid toys participate in one more adventure.
While “Shrek” tried to make us care with their fourth installment, “Toy Story” ends on a high note. Farewell to the film franchise that jump-started Pixar. That makes 11 hit movies in a row for the animation giant.
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