With the summer movie blockbuster season barely a month old, our brains have been stuffed with all the digit-ized sequels (“Iron Man 2,” “Sex and the City 2”), absent-numbered followups (“Shrek 4: The Final Chapter” a.k.a. “Shrek (4) Forever After”), revamped retro excursions (“The Karate Kid” and “The A-Team”), and unintended prequels (“Robin Hood”). Perhaps we should have all those Hollywood heads examined to see if there is a speck of originality left. But leave it to the folks at Pixar to lift my spirits in this month of big bloated budget discontent. Their “Toy Story 3” delivers another blessed reason to get out to the multiplex with your kids and marvel at the beloved 1990s animated toys once again playing with our imagination. God bless Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios) for a unprecedented string of great Apple products AND memorable cartoons.
The film is loaded with old favorites: Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and others, our friends are joined by Ken (Michael Keaton) and Barbie (“The Little Mermaid’s” Jodi Benson), and itsy bits by Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Whoopi Goldberg, et al. Ned Beatty comes aboard as the evil Lotso, modeled after the real life early 1980s plush you Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear, but with an emotional history that has transformed him from lovable critter to school yard bully.
So, what does “Toy Story 3” have going for it?
Number 1: Beloved Characters. (see above)
Number 2: Story, story, story. Divinely inspired narrative with smart dialogue and jokes expertly delivered. Lee Unkrich (co-director of the first sequel and “Finding Nemo”) graduates to sole director credit, adeptly taking the baton from John Lasseter and following Pixar’s bible of creative success. Oscar®-winning screenwriter Michael (“Little Miss Sunshine”) Arndt’s first foray into animation has taken a story by Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Unkrich and mixed in just the right servings of comedy, action, passion, and sentimentality.
Number 3: Enjoyable visual gags. Right from the start (well, after Pixar’s other short gift, the 6-minute “Day & Night.” It’s a story of two ghostly characters told with no dialogue, yet marvelously embellished with a enchanting symmetry of form and fascination.) Where was I? Oh yes, right from the start (of the feature), there’s a tale within a tale, told with a bold western genre bravado and a raging stampede of a barrel of monkeys. This segues into home movie recollections of a now college-bound toy-owner Andy Davis (John Morris), packing his belongings, which don’t seem to include most of the toys. Woody, Buzz, and gang are in a quandary (they’re also in a cardboard box) as their fate is laid out in a variety of unsatisfactory outcomes: Split up? Attic bound? Trash? (Oh no!) Their “Operation Playtime” backfires and along with Andy’s sister Molly’s Barbie doll, there is a daring escape from a triple-ply plastic garbage bag. It’s just one of the many predicaments that portray the toys in ingenuously simple—yet simply difficult—situations that demand quick action and keen observation. Adding American icons Ken and Barbie to the animated equation allows for many light-hearted and light-headed moments (particularly enjoyable to the fashion conscious set) that align with our own collective association with these dolls (be it you, your sister, or your kids). BTW, it’s not the older, over-proportioned Barbie. No doubt that decision made Mattel happy enough to license the character. And Buzz, having battery-driven chipset innards, provides some hilarious episodes when reset to factory-delivered space ranger mode, and beyond. Mr. Potato Head has a pita-enhanced moment that will flatten you with laughter in your seat.
Number 4: “Toy Story 3” is also in 3D. The good 3D. Not the throw a spear in your eye kind, the loving, extend the dream world kind (i.e., “How to Train a Dragon”). It’s a gem no matter how many dimensions you watch it in.
So, what really happens in the film? Our friends find themselves donated to the Sunnyside day care center, where Lotso welcomes them with faux friendliness, escorting the newbies to the “Caterpillar Room.” This is actually a detention area where the youngest, sugar-addled toddlers slobber, de-tail (poor Rex), or otherwise abuse our gang. It’s toy boot camp for our uninformed friends. The plush white and purple exterior of the world-weary Lotso (whose back story provides his character’s motivations) is only a cover for an embittered soul. He and his cronies Stretch the octopus, the huge Big Baby, insectaloid Twitch, etc. rule over the layout which the film’s designers showcase as a prison stalag. Woody, who has yearned to be re-united with Andy, departs before the worst has fallen on his friends. He accidentally lands in the home of Bonnie, whose mom works at Sunnyside and personal toys provide some pronouncements that allows our sheriff hero to help with the precision planning necessary to plot the great escape.
“Toy Story 3” has all the sass, action, and derring do of the Indiana Jones movies, the charm, admiration, and fun of its predecessors and cousins at Pixar, and enough laughter and imagination to fuel generations to come.