Film Review: Toy Story 3 (U)

2010 – 110mn – U

2010 – 110mn – U

Directed by Lee Unkrich. Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Don Rickles.

Review by walter Nichols

It would be a sad summer without an adventure from the folks at Pixar, and this week brings us the third film in the Toy Story series, the studio’s very first creation. The toys’ owner Andy is all grown-up and going off to the college, and during the move Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang are mistakenly donated to a day-care center. At first it seems like the perfect new home – with dozens of kids always eager to play – but it soon reveals itself to be a living nightmare, a prison run by pink teddy bear Lotso (Ned Beatty). It’s up to Woody to bust his friends out and get them back to Andy.

As is now expected from Pixar, Toy Story 3 is a rich, deep, layered experience, beautifully animated and packed with more intelligence and laughs than you’d ever think could fit into a single movie. The familiar characters and environment means there’s none of the thrill of novelty that elevate, say, Up or Ratatouille, but spending time with Woody, Buzz and co feels like an exhilarating and long-overdue reunion with great old friends.

We get plenty of new characters to add to the mix, too – the main standout is Michael Keaton’s Ken (as in “Barbie and”), a vain, slightly creepy, very lonely girly man vital to the plot. Timothy Dalton turns the small part of Mr. Pricklepants (a hedgehog toy in lederhosen with delusions of thespian grandeur) into one of the highlights of the film. And the new baddies – manipulative teddy Lotso Huggin’ Bear (that’s his full name) and his muscle henchman Big Baby – are inventive spins on classic toys.

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Written by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) and directed by Lee Unkrich (co-director of Toy Story 2 but also Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo), the film is a miracle of structure, building like clockwork, without a scene that doesn’t feel tight, funny, unexpected, and brilliant. The second half of the film is one of the greatest escapes you’ll ever witness on a big screen. There’s also a refreshing lack of atrocious Randy Newman songs (although the Toy Story series is where Newman is at his most bearable).

The last twenty minutes get a little dark, and might be a bit too much for the very youngest cinemagoers, but everyone else will enjoy them the same way we enjoyed the first fifteen of Up – as something more mature, thrilling, and moving than “cartoons” are usually allowed to attempt. This daring is becoming Pixar’s signature, and I can hardly wait for what they’re going to cook up next.

Star rating: 5 out of 5 stars