What other movie franchise can take an 11-year hiatus and come back with the same cast, as fresh, funny, and irresistible as ever? Who else but the gang from Andy’s room, the lovable toy heroes of the mighty Toy Story series that catapulted a hip little animation studio called Pixar onto the Hollywood A-list. Toy Story 3 reunites the whole gang, and not just to exploit the new 3-D technology. In TS3, the passage of time is a subtext in a typically whimsical, hilarious, and poignant adventure that celebrates the magical world of a child’s imagination, and ponders the inevitability of growing up. The brilliant opening sequence re-introduces all the familiar toys in a thrilling chase scenario (a runaway train full of orphans; a giant pig-shaped alien spaceship) that turns out to be playing inside the head of little Andy, crawling around with his toys in an old home movie. But now Andy is packing up to go to college, and his toys—cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), spaceman Buzz (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the rest—spend most of their time in the toy box.
Andy means to take his beloved Woody to college with him, but through a series of mishaps, all the old toys are donated to a day-care center. Their joy at being played with again quickly sours once they’re subjected to the most destructive tiny tots, trapped in a prison-like hierarchy run by an embittered old plush bear (Ned Beatty). The story unspools on three levels: the action plot, in which the toys engineer their great escape, a buoyant character comedy between the toys (including a gooey romance between Barbie (Jodi Benson) and a Ken with a dark side (Michael Keaton), stuck in a disco ’70 time warp of ascots and lamé, and a personality shift when Buzz is switched to Spanish-language mode and starts carrying on like Don Juan), and a deeply moving and wistful meditation on letting go and saying goodbye. (There’s also a wry and chilling comment on our culture of disposability in a scary trip to the landfill where the gang find themselves just a pull-string away from the pulping machine and incinerator.) Veteran Pixar director Lee Unkrich maintains the delicate balance between action, comedy, and heart. This is one terrific sequel that lives up to its origins. (G) 103 minutes. (★★★★) | LJ
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