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Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3

Rated G, 102 min. Directed by Lee Unkrich. Voices by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 18, 2010

If you follow film blogs, you might have heard this week of a scrambly panic in Tinseltown over the summer box office’s so far unremarkable receipts, the product, the speculation goes, of audience fatigue with all the supposed sure bets of reboots of known quantities and new franchise installments – old ideas appended with 2 and 3 to their name. You’ll hear no argument here – heck, yeah, we need fresh ideas – but rarely has a sequel felt less cynical, less assembly-lined for maximum profit than this consistently delightful return to Toy. I have only the faintest recollection of the first Toy Story, unintentionally skipped the second altogether, and approached this third outing with the particular dread of a childless adult sent gangplank-style to an overcapacity sneak screening teeming with kids. Joke’s on me, then – and surely I laughed more (sincerely, full-throatedly) at Toy Story 3’s smart comedy than at any other film of the still-young summer movie slate. (How smart? The high-low spread runs from a Cool Hand Luke shout-out and silent-film-style physical acrobatics to poop-in-the-sandbox gentle smirks.) While the first Toy Story triumphantly announced Pixar’s arrival back in 1995, the franchise has never felt on par with the studio’s later, more overtly lyrical pieces (WALL-E, Up). Toy Story 3 doesn’t attempt the kind of narrative artistry of those films, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsophisticated: In its own unassuming way, it says as much as Up did about the often-uneasy transition from one stage of life to the next – and all the more ingenious, then, that it’s the life cycle of a pliable, Plasticine doll we genuinely worry over here. At the film’s beginning, the toys – including series regulars Sheriff Woody (voiced by Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Allen) – are confronted with the question of their own continued usefulness when owner Andy packs up to go to college. Granted, he already packed them away years ago; they’ve been passing the years in a toy chest, still treasured if no longer played with, and they’re more or less okay with the inevitability of that next stage of life – the “attic phase,” they call it. But an accidental misplacement results in the toys being dropped off at a daycare center (dubbed Sunnyside, with very intentional retirement-home implications). An aged plush bear named Lotso (Beatty) gives them a bait-and-switch warm welcome, but turns out he rules Sunnyside like some awful despot swathed in fuzzy-wuzzy purple terry. The toys disagree – return to Andy or give in to the Sunnyside gulag? – and the rest of the film is a frantic but well-plotted picture that holds allegiance to others as its highest value. The 3-D format is well-used but never intrusive, and one of the essential pleasures of the piece is its toy-sized perspective. (What child, consigned to a life in miniature, isn’t delighted by giant scale?) In its darkest, most perilous stretches, and there are a few, the film could stand to lighten up a little, but still: In its nimble forging of action and comedy, anticness and unabashed emotion, Toy Story 3 inspires an uncomplicated adoration: the kind we reserve for our best-loved if ill-worn – and even occasionally misplaced – childhood playmates.
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