© 2010 Ray Wong
It's been 11 years since Toy Story 2 was first released, and something amazing happens with Toy Story 3, the newest Pixar animation: The gang is back and it's as if no time has passed!
But things have definitely changed. Andy (John Morris) is now 17. He hasn't played with his toys, including Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), for years. They've been relegated to a toy box, spending years entertaining each other. Before Andy goes to college, his mother needs him to clean out his room so his sister, Molly, can move in. So he has three choices with his old toys: toss them, store them in the attic, or donate them to a daycare center. Andy decides to take Woody with him to college and put everything else (yes, including Buzz) in the attic.
But misunderstanding and a series of events take our toy heroes to Sunnyside, a daycare center where the toys are run by a cuddly, purple stuffed bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty). It's a dream come true for everyone -- they get to finally get played with -- except Woody, who believes they must all return to their owner, Andy. What they don't know is that Lotso runs Sunnyside like a prison, and the new toys are consigned to a room with children who are way too young to play with them. Lotso locks them up every night and threatens them if they dare to escape.
Realizing they're in danger, Woody tries to help his friends escape. But Lotso and his minions have high security. To make matter worse, something happens to Buzz and he's not himself. With Andy leaving for college, they must escape and return before it's too late.
All the voices are back, led by Tom Hanks (Angels & Demons) and Tim Allen (Wild Hogs). They both reprise their respective roles as if no time had passed. Since 1999, Hanks has become one of Hollywood's most bankable dramatic actors and producers. As Woody, though, he shows us exactly why the character as well as the actor himself are so endearing: that guy-next-door quality with a hint of heroism. Allen, meanwhile, is perfectly fine in the second chair as Buzz, playing essentially a supporting role to Woody. Their chemistry remains solid.
Joan Cusack (My Sister's Keeper) also returns as Jesse the Cowgirl, and her spunky, perky performance adds to the colorful and diverse cast which includes returning voices such as Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, Wallace Shawn as Rex, John Ratzenberger as Hamm, and Estelle Harris as Mrs. Potato Head. Jodie Benson (Enchanted) also reprises her delicious role as Barbie. 26-year-old John Morris (Toy Story 2) returns as the grown-up Andy as well.
But it's the new cast members who steal the show, which is a difficult thing to do considering the stellar original cast. Ned Beatty (The Killer Inside Me) is pitch perfect as the cuddly yet twisted Lotso. And the ultimately scene-stealer is Ken, voiced with humor, energy and personality by Michael Keaton (Cars).
Written and directed by Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo), together with Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) and John Lassetter (Cars), the screenplay sticks to the familiar. It's an action-adventure featuring our beloved characters. The themes never shy away from the familiar either: abandonment, friendship, companionship, adjustment, with a bit of romance thrown in. There's a lot of jokes, too -- some very clever and funny, and some not (Potty humor? Pixar, you can do better). What the writers have succeeded to do, though, is to have fun with the material, and come up with something new and fresh. Hilarious and yet touching. Fun and yet profound.
The story line, however, is darker than the previous two. There is an unsettling plot development that involves imprisonment, torture, and incineration that could be very scary for the young ones. There is also a pervasive wistfulness and sadness associated with, primarily, Andy's growing up and his pending departure. Parting is such sweet sorrow. There's always this lingering, heart-tugging piece of emotion floating through the entire story, and it comes to a head at the end. I admit, I shed a quiet tear. So bravo! to the filmmakers for making a grown man cry.
Unkrich's direction is just as good as his colleagues. The Pixar veteran has learned a lot from working with the masters, and his debut as sole director is a solid one. The plot moves forward at a great pace, with enough humor, action, suspense and excitement to enchant kids and adults alike. In fact, during the second act, there are moments when I forgot I was watching an animated film with inanimate objects. I was totally engrossed by the suspense and action. There was one scene, at the landfill processing plant, that had me hold my breath the entire time. It was riveting, powerful, and touching. And of course, there's the ending that is simply perfect, and Unkrich delivers it perfectly.
I came to see Toy Story 3 with very high expectation and skepticism -- can they really put a "3" on the title and make this soar? And the result far exceeds that expectation. Toy Story 3 is possibly the best of the trilogy, and it ends on an extremely high note. I can't ask for anything more than a simple phrase: Damn, it's a very, very fine story indeed.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris
Director: Lee Unkrich
Writers: Michael Arndt, John Lassetter, Lee Unkrich
Distributor: Pixar/Walt Disney
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 103 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 10
Direction – 9
Animation – 10
Editing – 9
Production – 10
Total – 9.1 out of 10