With the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton. Directed by Lee Unkrich. Rated G for general audiences. 103 minutes.
Audiences await the arrival of the new Pixar film the same way people once anticipated a new film from Alfred Hitchcock or Woody Allen. Pixar’s record is near-perfect, marred only by the disappointing – if financially successful – “Cars.” With TOY STORY 3, they were taking a chance. Sure, there was a built in audience for it based on the first two movies, but was there anything more to be said? As it turns out, there was, and the result is a fitting capstone to a landmark series of animated films.
As the story opens, Andy, the boy who owns Woody, Buzz and the gang, has grown up and is packing for college. His long-neglected toys sit in his room, and his mother wants him to pack them away, donate them or throw them out. Through a series of mishaps, Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest end up donated to a day care center. If at first it seems like heaven, things soon change as they realize they have been consigned to the toddler room, where toys go to die.
The comedy comes from the toys deciding they have to bust out, even though the leader of the toys, an avuncular bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) runs it like a prison camp. Besides sending up prison break movies, the filmmakers also give us wonderfully nutty scenes like Barbie (Jodi Benson from “The Little Mermaid”) finally meeting Ken (Michael Keaton) and Buzz being reprogrammed in unexpected ways. Other favorite characters get their moments to shine including Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Parson), Rex the Dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), and Hamm the Piggy Bank (John Ratzenberger). There’s even a truly surreal moment when Mr. Potato Head has to reconstitute himself without the potato.
However, what viewers are most likely to remember is the last reel when Woody, Buzz and the other toys face certain doom. However much you know they couldn’t possibly kill off these characters, the moment when they face death is one of the most moving scenes Hollywood is likely to produce this year. That the characters are both toys and pieces of computer animation and yet we still care for them gets to the secret of Pixar’s success. Their scripts aren’t simply collections of gags and topical references. They give us a story rich with meaning and characters who are far more complex than anyone you’ll meet in “The A Team” or “Sex and the City 2.”
The final scene, where Andy has to decide what to do with the toys and the toys have to decide if they can live with that decision is the sort of powerful emotional moment that makes Pixar films so memorable. It is a fitting end to what now must be called the “Toy Story” trilogy. The ending is so right it would be criminal to try to squeeze any more out of the series.
While “Toy Story 3” is already a shoo-in for year end ten best lists, two additional notes are warranted. It is preceded by a new short, “Day & Night,” one of the more unusual pieces they’ve done but shows that Pixar will continue to experiment with the form. It’s a winner. Less successful is the 3D process. There is simply no justification for paying extra to see this in 3D, a technological dead-end that adds nothing to the viewing experience.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.