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Movie Review: Toy Story 3

June 18, 2010
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In 1995, an animation studio called Pixar released Toy Story, a tale that chronicled what toys do when no one is around.  The movie featured the loyal and charismatic Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks),  whose alpha-toy status is threatened when his owner receives a bright and shiny Buzz Lightyear toy for  his birthday.  The movie became an instant classic, and earned over $360M  worldwide.  Pixar also became the gold standard for animation and storytelling.

The sequel, Toy Story 2, was released in 1999, and earned over $485M. Now, over 11 years later, Pixar finally unveils Toy Story 3.  Rest assured, the movie is worth the wait.  Pixar builds on its impeccable track record with yet another beautifully written and animated story that will appeal to kids and adults alike.

From one parent to another- clean the toy room out before you go see this. Throwing away toys after seeing this is tantamount to killing a bunny or stomping on a butterfly. You’ll feel like a cold-blooded killer.

Toy Story 3 cleverly acknowledges all the years that have passed by having Andy, the original gangs owner, head off to college.  His mom is having him sort through all his stuff. Bags are being marked as “attic”, “donations”, “college” or  ”trash.”  Andy picks through his toys and can’t quite seem to part ways with them. Everyone is headed to the attic, with the exception of Woody, who has been elevated to the coveted status of “college.”

It’s a bittersweet victory for Woody (Tom Hanks), because he will be separated from the other toys that he has cohabited with for all these years. An honest and unfortunate mistake lands all his pals in the “donated” pile, and they are taken to Sunnyside Day Care. At first, it seems like paradise.  They are warmly greeted by the existing toys, and given a tour of the facilities.  They are beside themselves with joy at the prospect of actually being played with.

Then they get a taste of their playmates.  The newbies have been relegated to the toddler room, where they are drooled on, thrown about, and generally abused by children too young to know better.  Buzz (Tim Allen) promptly takes it upon himself to go to head honcho Lotso (Huggin Bear), voiced by Ned Beatty, to inquire about a room transfer.

It becomes readily apparent that things are not really all that sunny at Sunnyside. Lotso runs the facility with an iron fist, and toys are put on lockdown overnight. Woody catches wind of the happenings at Sunnyside and embarks on an rescue mission so that the toys can return home to the attic, their original destination.

Toy Story 3 is wildly exciting and deeply moving. The old gang is still (mostly) intact. In addition to Woody and Buzz, Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) and the Mrs. (Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Rex (Wallace Shawn) all return.

The daycare serves as a great way to introduce new characters. Lotso is a menacing figure, but a back-story ultimately makes him a sympathetic character. His main henchman is Big Baby, a grotesque baby doll who has seen better days.

Barbie and Ken are hilarious, and for me they were the highlight of the film.  When the two clothes whores meet, it’s kismet. Ken finally has found a toy who appreciates his inappropriate love of ascots, pastel clothing, and shorts. Barbie is thrilled to find that someone acknowledges her leg warmers, and she is positively giddy when she gets an eyeful of Ken’s Dream House.

It goes without saying that the animation is top notch.  I saw the 3D version, and while the 3D was completely unnecessary, it was seamless and blended flawlessly into the story, just as 3D was meant to be.

The writing is on par with most Pixar movies; sharp and clever.   There are plenty of inside jokes for parents but the movie never stoops to being crass, or employing fart jokes, like so many kids movies do today.

An obsessive attention to detail is part of what makes the Pixar movies so great.  The Barbie Dream House sports the external elevator, Lotso smells like strawberries, and Buzz has a previously undiscovered Spanish programming mode. Pixar captures all the things that you remember about your own toys, and successfully brings them to the big screen.

By now, director Lee Unkrich is a master at his craft.  He previously directed Cars, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and Toy Story 2. Here he creates a fitting bookend for a beloved series.  There will be tears. You will feel foolish (crying over animated toys?!).

But what a beautiful homage to toys- our universal symbol of childhood.  Everyone has a favorite toy, and Toy Story 3 invites you to revisit your inner kid and bathe in the nostalgia of years long ago. I suspect it will win over more than a few new fans as well.

Rating 4.5/5

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