There may be a number in the title, but Toy Story 3 is anything but “just" a sequel.
As Andy heads off to college, Buzz (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack), along with Rex, Hamm, Barbie, Slinky Dog and Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head, are anticipating being put in the attic. Mistakenly donated to a day care, they meet the disarmingly sweet, strawberry-scented bear Lotso (as in Lots-O-Huggin", voiced by Ned Beatty). Lotso, it turns out, is keeping the school"s toys in line, telling his right-hand plastic man Ken (Michael Keaton) to send them to the toddler room, where the most slobber-filled damage occurs. (When Ken meets Barbie, unpredictable results occur.)
Where"s Woody? Having a parallel adventure, since the pull-string cowboy (beautifully voice-acted again by Tom Hanks) was meant to go away with Andy but winds up blocks from home. Then a meeting with a kindergartener reminds Woody of what a toy"s life should be, and he goes to save his pals. What follows is a series of adventures.
Probably most unexpected is the film"s darkly funny tone, which often veers into David Lynch-like territory. When the children go home, the day-care center transforms into a house of hysterical horrors: a lurking, droopy-eyed giant baby as Lotso"s goon and a shrieking cymbal-clashing guard monkey are so disturbingly funny that just one close-up elicits yet another stream of laughter from the audience. And an epic flashback sequence revealing Lotso"s back story is simply superb.
The most surprising thing about “Toy Story 3" is its authentic and effective sentiment aimed at the adults in the audience. From the opening sequence of home videos showing a young Andy blissfully playing with his toys, to the teenager driving himself off to college, this film is tribute to the bittersweet farewell we all must give to our childhoods as we move on to new adventures.
While the vocal performances of Hanks, Allen and company make up a perfect ensemble, and its visual leaps astound, “TS3's" real power sneaks up on you. By the time its poetic ending arrives, encapsulating the transformative, continuing power of play, we recognize that none of us move from one stage of life, or beyond, without help from our friends.
Don"t miss this one for anything, it"s a must watch.
Rating: 4 out of 5*
Starring: Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and Michael Keaton
Director: Lee Unkrich