Blockbuster Movie Month: "Toy Story 3" Review

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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Rating: G
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: June 18, 2010
Directed by: Lee Unkrich
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy

Even though it is the third film in the series, few sequels have had the degree of expectation that burdened "Toy Story 3." Released a full 15 years after the original "Toy Story," and 11 years after its beloved and critically acclaimed sequel, fans of the first two films as well as a whole new generation of family audiences expected a movie of the caliber of two of the most beloved family films of all time. Even though Disney was one of the forces behind the first two "Toy Story" movies, "Toy Story 3" was the first film in the series released after Disney's much publicized takeover of Pixar in 2006. While this entry into the iconic series could have easily disappointed, "Toy Story 3" brings back the same cast, characters and one of a kind feel that made "Toy Story," and Pixar, a household name.

When it first came to theater screens in 1995, "Toy Story" was a technical marvel. Computer animation existed well before "Toy Story," and computers were already being used for a range of special effects; however, at that point there had never been an animated feature created completely from computer generated imagery. "Toy Story" may have been the first completely computer animated feature film, but it did not have the hallmarks that many feared would come from computer animation. The animation was not cold, or lifeless or devoid of character. Pixar, which at that point boasted years of experience in experimental computer animation, had created a work that was full of life, warmth and character, and not just visually.

Everything about "Toy Story" seemed to come together perfectly, from the game, star-studded cast to Randy Newman's wonderful songs to writing that hit all the right notes of sentimentality and wittiness to appeal to people of all ages. That first "Toy Story" movie also introduced audiences to what would become the enduring characters of the franchise. Tim Allen plays the conceited and initially delusional toy Buzz Lightyear, while Tom Hanks voices the more down-to-earth yet jealous Woody. The stellar cast is rounded out by Laurie Metcalf, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger and Wallace Shawn, who all return for "Toy Story 3." Also appearing again in "Toy Story 3" is Joan Cusack as Jessie, who provided much of the emotional crux of "Toy Story 2."

One of the many novel aspects of the "Toy Story" trilogy is that the story of each sequel does not pick up directly where the previous movie left off. Years elapse between the release of the movies, and similarly years elapse between the stories as well. This comes across as a poignant reflection on growing up and the passage of time, both themes of the second and third "Toy Story" movies.

The 11-year gap between "Toy Story 2" and "Toy Story 3" translates to about a decade of time passing for the "Toy Story" gang. At the start of the story Andy is 17 years old, ready for college and much too old for the toys that once occupied so much of his time. Sadly, yet understandably, some of the toys from the previous films have been sold to other families, but Jessie, Woody, Buzz and a few others remain in storage.

The remaining toys are worried about their future, and through a series of accidents they find themselves at daycare center. While this may seem like an ideal situation for toys who like being played with, even Woody, Buzz, Jessie the Cowgirl and Rex the Dinosaur are not prepared for what they face at the hands of the daycare's youngest attendees. Like the daycare's other toys, the main "Toy Story" toy cast suffers rough, unthinking play at the hands of tots, leaving them dirty, battered and ready to escape.

At this point "Toy Story 3" becomes an adventure film, with the characters plotting to escape the daycare, or at least to a section of the daycare with older children. Joining the regulars are a few pleasant surprises to the cast, including Ned Beatty in a role he has been waiting his whole career to play: a pink teddy bear named Lotso. Michael Keaton, a welcome addition to any cast, especially in a comedy, also shows up as a neckerchief wearing Ken doll. John Morris reprises his role as Andy, a great choice to add another level of emotional heft for those who have grown up with these movies.

The last act of "Toy Story 3" switches into adventure mode, bringing in a few movie references only adults will get, from "Cool Hand Luke" to "The Shining" to "Jurassic Park." While this is par for the course for modern family films, the writers of "Toy Story 3" accomplish what Pixar fans have come to expect. There is plenty of entertainment and emotional relevance for children in "Toy Story 3." However, older viewers will likely be hit especially hard by things that are all too recognizable in the story, including the inevitability of aging and the importance of close relationships.

The sole directing credit here is Lee Unkrich, who worked on the previous "Toy Story" movies and also served as co-director of "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "Ratatouille," making him a veteran of Pixar classics. The visual style recalls the other "Toy Story" films while adding a wider scope and a dimension of adventure appropriate for this story. The theatrical release of "Toy Story 3" included a 3D version, and there is a 3D Blu-ray version as well. However, the movie works great in its 2D incarnation as well.

"Toy Story 3" is a worthy entry in the "Toy Story" series. With this movie, it is becoming clear that "Toy Story" is something much more than just a family entertainment franchise. The makers of 'Toy Story 3" clearly care about what they are doing, and the unusual amount of heart is matched by an exceptional amount of talent in the cast and crew.