The old gang of toys is back and trying to figure out what to do now that their formerly-little-boy owner Andy is headed to college in Toy Story 3, a charming new adventure in the lives of Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
Once a cowboy-loving elementary-schooler, Andy (voice of John Morris) is now headed to college and his mom (Laurie Metcalf) tells him it’s time to bring some order to his room — pack things for college, put stuff in the attic or throw it out. His old toys — Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. (Don Rickles) and Mrs. (Estelle Harris) Potato Head, Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) the pig, the green aliens (Jeff Pidgeon) — try to reconcile themselves to a future in the attic (perhaps until Andy has kids, Woody says to cheer them up). But a mistake leads to most of the gang’s getting thrown in the trash — only Woody is put in the “college” box. In the course of attempts to save them, all the toys end up in a box headed to a daycare. At first, daycare seems promising for these being-played-with-starved toys. But then they realize that new toys won’t be in the bright and sunny world of the Butterfly Room, with the gentle, imaginative preschool kids; they will be thrown into the gauntlet of the “Caterpiller Room,” home to sticky, snot-covered, destructive toddlers.
We’re not age-appropriate, Buzz Lightyear protests. But Sunnyside Daycare is ruled with an iron fist by Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), one seriously ticked off, strawberry-scented bear. Cross the bear? Night in the box. The sand box.
Toy Story 3 is a series of adventure quests — Woody trying to get home to Andy, the other toys trying to free themselves from Lotso and his thugs including a giant, hulking baby doll called Big Baby and the fashion-conscious but easily swayed Ken (Michael Keaton), Woody’s brief stint with a new group of toys at the home of a little girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn). We get what most other recent sequels have yet to give us — new stories for familiar characters who both have the personalities we got to know and yet still can grow.
I have to say I wasn’t charged to go see this movie, had no particular desire to see more of Woody and Buzz. But the story makes this world fresh again. We get the toy humor and the silliness, we get jokes that actually make adults laugh (and without resorting to cheap pop culture shtick, like so many kids’ movies), we get some truly wonderful visuals (you always forget just how perfect Pixar movies look until you see another one), and we get a story with some serious heart. And on visuals and heart — I’m not sure that this movie is so much better in 3-D (the way I saw it) than in the cheaper 2-D, though toward the end of the movie you might appreciate the 3-Dness for the face-obscuring glasses. (What? I’ve got something in my eye. Stupid Pixar and their stupid genuine emotions).
For a movie featuring a teddy bear villain and heroes that include claw-obsessed three-eyed aliens and a leg-warmers-wearing Barbie (Jodi Benson), Toy Story 3 actually has some kind of deep things to say about life, the passage of time and letting go. It can be easy to forget this with all their hype and Oscars and commercial tie-ins, but Pixar movies aren’t just nice kids’ movies or pretty cartoons. They are exquisitely crafted stories about our collective emotional life, with feelings about relationships, aging, growing up, chasing a dream and searching for love deceptively examined by a cooking mouse or a romantic trash compactor or a loyal toy cowboy.
Sure, this all sounds like hyperbole. And maybe I am just sort of relieved to laugh out loud (not snicker, actually laugh) at a movie, to feel my time was well spent. Maybe I’m delighted to actually feel things about the story I’m watching, actual emotions earned by the story, not just a clever song choice or a cheap bit of melodrama. Maybe Toy Story 3 isn’t perfect, doesn’t have quite the blow-you-away greatness of, particularly, Ratatouille or WALL-E. Even if all of that is true, Toy Story 3 still remains a joy to watch and a marvel of animated story telling. And, quite possibly, one of the best movies so far this year. A-
Rated G (though there are some potentially scary, toys-in-peril parts near the end). Directed by Lee Unkrich with screenplay by Michael Arndt (story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich), Toy Story 3 is an hour and 49 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, June 18. It is distributed by Disney/Pixar.