Review - Toy Story 3 (*****)

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Toy Story 3.  108 mins.  G.  Directed by Lee Unkrich.  Written by Michael Arndt.  Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Ned Beatty, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and Michael Keaton.

By now, you've probably read all of the glowing reviews from the nation's top critics, seen the impressive box office totals ($110 million - a new June record!), and are well aware of the winning streak that Pixar has been on since the original Toy Story came out in 1995.  What more convincing do you need to go see Toy Story 3?  How 'bout this?  (Get ready for some hyperbole).  It is the best of the three Toy Story movies.  It is the third best of Pixar's films, after Wall-E and The Incredibles.  It is unquestionably, and by a mile, the best movie so far this year.  Pixar is operating at a whole other level than anybody else currently.  Toy Story 3 is the most complete, emotionally satisfying, thrilling, funny, and clever movie I've seen in a good long while, and, kids or no kids, any fan of movies owes it to themself to stop reading this review, drop everything, and drive to your local theater right now to see it.  Really - it's that good?  Yes.  Really. 

I'll admit my expectations were high for Toy Story 3.  I fell in love with the first one immediately upon seeing it in a theater in Dubai in 1995.  The second one was a slower burn for me.  I loved it, but didn't quite get why everyone thought it was better than the first.  Having just rewatched both recently (and repeatedly), I now appreciate the more mature storytelling of the sequel.  Since Toy Story 2, however, Pixar has moved on to bigger, better, and even more mature things.  Pixar has taken the emotional complexity and rich animation it developed so successfully in Wall-E, Ratatouille, and Up, and applied those same techniques to the Toy Story franchise.  The result is magical.

This time around, Andy is all grown up and heading to college.  Our hero toys (Woody, Buzz, Jessie, the Potato Heads, Rex, Bullseye, Slinky Dog, the Aliens, and Hamm), through some complicated plot maneuvering, find themselves being donated to a local day care.  There, they meet Lotso Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty), a pink, strawberry-scented old-timer who deceives the newcomers into thinking everything is great, only to lead them astray and lock them up in the preschool section of the day care, where toys are, to put it kindly, not gently played with.  Lotso and his crew (notably, a droopy-eyed baby doll named "Big Baby") keep close tabs on the toys and lock them up, running the day care like it was a prison. It's up to Woody to save his friends, bust them out, and get everybody back to Andy.

If this sounds a tad like The Great Escape or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, don't be surprised.  The parallels to those two movies are clearly drawn, albeit in a fantastically funny manner.  All of the new additions to the cast mesh wonderfully.  I loved Big Baby and his bouncer/thug-type role in the story.  Ken and Barbie get ample playing time in this one too, and, as voiced by the great Michael Keaton, Ken gets a lot of laughs as the weak-willed, metrosexual of the group.

The small details are too rich to name, though I will say I enjoyed the use of a See-and-Say as a roulette game, the cymbal-crashing monkey as a security watchman, the tortilla-faced Mr. Potato Head, and the Spanish-speaking Buzz.  There is just so much to enjoy here - your eyes can barely take it all in.

As funny as it is, Toy Story 3 goes to some pretty dark places as well.  It might be a bit intense for the wee ones, but that's not to say it's inappropriate.  The climactic action scene at a garbage dump and waste removal site is scary and exciting, and there's a sustained moment where the toys' lives are in real danger that had me fighting back tears.  The movie ends on a happy note, as of course it must, but it's a bittersweet one.  Satisfying sure, but like the first 10 minutes of Up, it might just make you cry.  It is amazing how Pixar is able to get its audience so deeply invested in the relationship between toys and their owner.  Toy Story 3's ending is perfect, bringing real closure to the series.

I don't use the word often, but Toy Story 3 is a masterpiece.  If you're still reading this - seriously stop.  Go see it already!

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