Mark Reviews Movies


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Lee Unkrich

Cast: The voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Emily Hahn, Blake Clark

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 6/18/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 17, 2010

Let us consider for a moment the narrative progression of the Toy Story films.

The first, a revolutionary feat unto itself as the first computer-animated feature (Only appropriate, in retrospect, that Pixar, the studio that started it all is still the one at the lead of the ever-growing pack), is a stroke of superb imagination. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child's playthings, the film invents a simple sense of purpose for its characters, unites them in that existence, and sets them off on a quest in the real world, which, to them, is not unlike an entirely new planet.

The sequel, perhaps the best of the series, continues the camaraderie and sense of adventure and evolves the characters' reason for being to the next, logical step. For if a toy lives only to be played with by its owner, what happens when that kid grows up, loses interest, and packs the toy away or, worse, abandons it in a box on the side of the road? It's a strange, sad dilemma for a thing made of plastic, and one that helps solidify the characters beyond the memory of what it was like to be a child with a beloved toy.

Arriving eleven years after the sequel, Toy Story 3, then, works on that dual level of nostalgia—for the remembrance of the wild imagination of childhood and the reunion with these characters, who are more memorable and lovable than one might have recalled. Their personalities, quirks, and issues have grown on us over three films, and they are once again immediately recognizable, making their return much, much appreciated.

Just as their presence has expanded, so too has their existential problem. For the day they all knew would come and feared from the first time they realized it has arrived: The child who once loved them and played with them every day has grown up and is on his way to college.

For Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), the pull-string, ragdoll cowboy, and the rest of the cavalcade of toys, life has turned into a long stay shut up in the toy box. They try to get Andy (voice of John Morris) to play with them, swiping his cell phone and calling it, but he looks at them with familiarity instead of the sparkle that once filled his eyes (and is shown in a perfectly toned home-video prologue that follows the toys' biggest scaled adventure, involving a bombed bridge, a train full of orphans, and other twists and turns of the playful mind of a young boy).

Woody, being the 17-year-old's favorite, has a hallowed spot in Andy's box of things for college, while the rest are meant for the attic. Because of a mistake, Woody's friends end up on the curb for trash pickup, and after escaping the crushing backend of the garbage truck and feeling rejected, they make their way into the donation box for a local daycare center.

All the characters return, with a few exceptions (Woody takes a quick pause at the mention of his lady love in the list of lost or broken friends), and they every bit as endearing as before. Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen) rallies the discards together and argues with Woody about a toy's rightful place. The ever loyal cowboy believes a toy is supposed to stick by its owner no matter what circumstance, while the spaceman thinks their mission with Andy is over.

Jessie (voice of Joan Cusack), the cowgirl, has flashes of her abandonment issues and cannot believe her luck in finding a place with no owners—all the play with none of the heartbreak. The Potato Heads (voices of Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Rex (voice of Wallace Shawn), and Hamm (voice of John Ratzenberger) are still up to their old schtick.

The newcomers include Barbie's (voice Jodi Benson) instant flame Ken (voice of Michael Keaton), who is stuck in the '60s, wears an ascot, and has a dream house but no one with whom to share it. Lotso Hugs Bear (voice of Ned Beatty) runs the day-to-day operation of the toys at the daycare center (and he smells like strawberries). It's like a resort or retirement home, where, after a hard day of play, a toy can get a massage and spare parts, super glue, and batteries are plentiful. Andy's playthings, though, quickly learn, in a hilarious display of toddler-induced carnage, that the last place a toy wants to be is in the Caterpillar Room.

The story shifts back and forth between Woody trying to return home before Andy leaves for college (and spending time with some Method toys) and the rest of the toys trying to find out the secret happenings of Lotso's governance over everyone at the daycare, which, once they start to question their place, begins to resemble a prison.

Screenwriters Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and director Lee Unkrich get a lot of mileage out of their new characters. Soul-mates Ken and Barbie try to figure out if they've seen each other before, Lotso rules over the rest with a tyrannical, furry fist, and a cymbal-banging monkey who serves as monitor and alarm system gets a laugh each time it appears on screen. A Pagliacci of a clown named Chuckles (voice of Bud Luckey) is one of two characters who stare longingly into the nighttime sky and holds the knowledge of Lotso's past.

The comedy is as solid and character-centered as it has been in the previous two films, and the character animation is incredibly vivid in making Woody's raggedy physicality, Ken and Barbie's stiff motions, and Buzz's random transformation into a flamenco dancer as much a part of the humor as the jokes they serve.

Where the film finds its heart, though, is in the continuing struggle of the toys of they try to find a place to belong. Is their dedication to Andy or to each other more important? A treacherous trip through a garbage dump hits its climax in a surprisingly powerful scene in which the friends, staring into the abyss of obliteration, make a gesture of unity.

At this point, Toy Story 3, which has spent so much time dancing around the inevitable, realizes it must say good-bye in one way or another to its little heroes. Their last playtime, an emotionally potent assertion of the importance of memory and the ongoing cycle of childhood wonderment, has come, and it has been a joyful dance.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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