Someday, Pixar is going to stumble.
Someday, the creative spark that has animated all of the studio’s animated features will flicker and dim.
Someday, the combination of brilliant, multilayered storytelling and eye-popping, astonishingly inventive computer-generated graphics that have set Pixar pictures apart from all competitors will suffer a loss of luster and a lack of imagination.
That day is not yet here.
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“Toy Story 3” is not a sublime achievement like “Up” and “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo,” the best of Pixar’s best. Its story is a little too familiar, its pace in places a little too overwhelmingly frantic. But it will do.
Will it ever.
It’s full of hair-raising perils and the narrowest of narrow escapes as Woody and Buzz and their plaything pals find themselves trapped in a world of terrors known as – cue scary lightning bolts and ominous thunderclaps – Sunnyside Daycare center.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, as hyperactive toddlers bash, smash, crush and wallop every doll, dithering dinosaur and Slinky dog they can get their sticky little mitts on.
And that’s not the worst of it.
There are secret agendas, devious deeds and dark betrayals hatched by a new set of toys led by a plush pink teddy bear that our old friends have to contend with as they try to figure out how to escape and get back home to their owner, Andy.
But how did they become separated from the kid in the first place?
Ah. That brings us to the real story of “Toy Story 3.”
Andy, you see, isn’t a kid anymore. He’s a young man, going on 18, heading off to college. He hasn’t played with Woody (voiced again by Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and the others in years, leaving them lying all but forgotten in the toy chest in his bedroom. And now, on the eve of his departure, his mom is pressing him to decide what to do with them. Box them up and store them in the attic? Stick them in a trash bag and put them out at the curb with the garbage? Or donate them to – shudder – Sunnyside?
A sense of gentle melancholy has hovered over the “Toy Story” series since the second installment in 1999 (the first movie came out in ’95). The toys know their time with Andy is term-limited. Kids grow up and outgrow their playthings, and in the “Toy Story” pictures, the toys are all too aware of that. Childhood ends, and the things of a child become reminders of a time of a certain kind of innocence that is lost and cannot be reclaimed.
In “Toy Story 2” and again in even greater depth in “Toy Story 3,” Pixar filmmaker-writers Lee Unkrich (who directed “3”), John Lasseter (the studio’s head honcho, who directed the first two “Toys”), Andrew Stanton and Michael Arndt (who wrote the screenplay based on a story penned by the other three men) have waded into the powerful emotional currents that come as a person ages out of childhood and given voice to our ambiguous feelings about that passage through the voices of the self-aware toys.
That’s what makes the “Toy Story” pictures so universally appealing. Adults, particularly parents, feel the tug of the film’s treatment of mortality and at the same time enjoy with their kids the action beats and tremendous humor Pixar has packed into this picture.
Because, along with everything else, “Toy Story 3” is a total hoot. Whether it’s vain Ken blathering to Barbie about his doll mansion with its huge closet and room devoted solely to changing from one fabulous outfit to another, or a reprogrammed Spanish-speaking Buzz dancing an impassioned flamenco with a dazzled and dazed Jessie, or a cymbal-clanging mad-eyed monkey monitoring spy cameras and thwarting attempted escapes, the humor is wild, woolly, and very clever.
And to top it all off, the picture is in 3-D, and the technique is so well-integrated into the movie that it never distracts but only enhances the experience of watching it.
All in all, another triumph for Pixar. The summer movie season is saved.
‘Toy Story 3’
* * * *
Cast: Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Joan Cusack (Jessie), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), Ned Beatty (Lotso)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Running time: 1:42
Rating: G; suitable for all ages
Where: Wide release