TOY STORY 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich. 2010)
Like many film folks, in the days before a long awaited sequel in a beloved franchise appears I like to revisit the earlier movies - especially if I haven't seen them in a long time. It's to remind me of the flavor of said films, yet it can also feel like doing homework sometimes. Re-watching the first TOY STORY (1995) and its follow-up TOY STORY 2 (1999) though, wasn't like doing homework at all.
The films hold up as immensely enjoyable endlessly inventive masterworks.
The TOY STORY films established Pixar Studios as the leading creators of CGI-animated features that built a beautiful track record of critically acclaimed hits including some of the best films of the last decade - FINDING NEMO, UP, WALL-E, and RATATOUILLE to name a handful. It's easy to be cynical about sequels, but Pixar is a name to be trusted, and you won't go wrong trusting them here.
The return of Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and their fellow toy friends is happily up to the high standards of their canon and even more happily its one of the few cinematic saviors of this summer of suck.
It's been over a decade since we've last seen the disparate troop of talking toys and we catch up with them as their now teenage owner Andy (voiced by John Morris) is packing for college. The toys fret over their fate - will they be stored in the attic, sold in a yard sale, or thrown away?
To their surprise, Andy picks Woody to take with him to school and puts the others in a garbage bag. Luckily he's just taking them to the attic, but in a moving mix-up they are taken to the curb by Andy's mother (voiced by Laurie Metcalf).
Woody tries to save them, but nearly gets thrown away himself.
After freeing themselves from the garbage bag, the toy troop (including the returning voices of John Ratzenburger, Don Rickles, Joan Cusack, Estelle Harris, and Wallace Shawn) realize that their life with Andy is over and that they should collectively climb into a box set to be donated to Sunnyside Daycare. Woody wants them to return home, but his friends immediately take to the lushly lit facility and the warm friendly welcome by the leader of the left behind toys: a pink strawberry teddy bear named "Lotso" - short for Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (wonderfully voiced by Ned Beatty).
While Woody tries to get back home, the toys find that things aren't what they seem at Sunnyside. I'll hold off on further major story Spoilers!, but I'll just report that there's a romantic subplot sponsored by Mattel in which Barbie (Jodie Benson) meets Ken (Michael Keaton), Buzz Lightyear gets his settings stuck in a Spanish mode, and there's a young girl (Emily Hahn) who Woody is briefly in the custody of that owns a few other new toy characters (voices of Timothy Dalton, Beatrice Miller, Javier Fernandez Pena, and Bud Luckey).
A superlative sequel in which all of the elements of the wealth of close scrapes, captivating chases, and absorbing attention to the exorbitant detail of the TOY STORY world are attended to excellently. It's funny, exciting, and sometimes even scary, yet it will most likely be remembered for its strong emotional pull.
The previous films were well rooted in sentimentality about the innocence and imagination of childhood balanced by the sad acknowledgment that these joys are fleeting, and play-time has to end someday. TOY STORY 3 doesn't shy away from these themes; it enriches them further making it the most thoughtful and touching film of the series.
Pixar (and Disney) did it again.
They made a wonderful movie that will take everyone from children to grown adults on a ride from doubling over with laughter to being reduced to tears. They also made so a 40 year old man can admit that, without shame, he can get worked up about a cast of animated plastic playthings accessing their worth. See? It felt good admitting that. Really good.