Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: "Toy Story 3"

It's been 15 years since the first "Toy Story" came out, and it's not an exaggeration to say it changed the face of animation forever.

Back then, it seemed a new golden age of hand-drawn creativity was upon us: "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King." Then some folks at a little upstart company called Pixar decided computers could do the job even better.

Within a few years -- certainly by 1999, when the wonderful "Toy Story 2" came out -- it was clear CG was the new king. Flash another decade later, and it was actually a novelty when Disney made a new hand-animated movie, "The Princess and the Frog," released last winter to modest success.

But with "Toy Story 3" now gracing theaters -- and coming not a moment too soon to save us from one of the most dismal summer of movies in memory -- we're reminded that it isn't the canvas or the paint that matters, but the vision of the artist. It's not about dazzling us with coolest new visual technique, but crafting a story and characters that touch us and take us somewhere unexpected.

In short: The wizards at Pixar have done it again.

It's been 11 years since we hung out with Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie the Cowgirl, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and the rest of the gang. Seeing them again is both nostalgic and exciting, like old friends come to visit after a lengthy absence.

The toys haven't changed much, of course. But their child, Andy, is all grown up and ready to leave for college. In the hubbub of moving out, the toys get put into the wrong bag and nearly are thrown out before the timely intervention of cowboy leader Woody (voice by Tom Hanks).

Instead, they end up donated to Sunnyside, a daycare center that at first looks like toy heaven on earth. There's tons of toys already there, but also dozens of kids to play with them. Even though, like Andy, the children will grow up and grow bored with them, every year brings a new batch.

"No owners means no heartbreak," intones Lotso (a terrific Ned Beatty), the cuddly old bear -- his name is short for Lots-o-Huggin' -- who runs the show at Sunnyside.

Woody, though, wants the gang to return to Andy so they can "be there for him," even if that means being consigned to the attic for awhile. And it turns out daycare has a nasty pecking order straight out of Orwell's "Animal Farm."

I guess some toys are created more equal than others.

One of the main subplots involves Barbie (Jodi Benson) being introduced to Ken (Michael Keaton). They were literally made for each other, of course, but in their universe they've never met before and instantly fall in love. Though Barbie does have reservations about Ken being Lotso's right-hand toy -- not to mention having an obsession with fashion accessories that's unbecoming even for the original boy toy.

Buzz (Tim Allen) kind of gets shunted to the side in this outing, though an accident triggers some special powers even he didn't know he had.

Mr. Potato Head is sent on a mission that involves detaching all his limbs, eyes, mouth, etc. and using other objects as a temporary host for his consciousness. This has all sorts of metaphysical implications begging for a serious philosophy dissertation: Does the soul reside in the heart? Or the mustache?

"Toy Story 3" is a great new adventure with a grand old gang, and I for one would love to have another -- just don't make us wait another 11 years for it.

I do have to add a note of caution: Despite the G rating, the film contains a scene of genuine terror, when it appears the toys will meet their doom, that may prove disturbing to little ones. Several tykes at the screening I attended visibly recoiled -- heck, I got a bit of the shivers.
All kidding aside, a PG probably would've been more appropriate.

Also, "Toy Story 3" is preceded by a 6-minute animated short, "Day & Night." It's a fun little diversion about two creatures whose bodies are windows to the same scene at different times of day. But I'd say it was done mostly for the amusement of the animators who created it, and isn't up to the usual, high standard for Pixar shorts.

3.5 stars out of four

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