by KYW’s Bill Wine
The first two Toy Story movies were brilliant, beloved, and boffo at the box office. So what can the third go-round possibly do to exceed expectations?
Nothing: you can’t best perfection. But you can match it. Which Toy Story 3 does in efficiently spectacular fashion.
Yep, it’s another magical marvel, an instant classic.
The trilogy (so far) that began in 1995 with Toy Story, the first fully-computer-animated feature film, continued with Toy Story 2 in 1999, its equally breathtaking follow-up, now completes itself (for the time being) with Toy Story 3. Has there ever been a movie franchise like this, a trifecta like this, that has maintained such a heady level of artistic accomplishment?
In the latest adventure for the talking toys, their owner, Andy, goes off to college, seemingly having outgrown Woody, Buzz, and the gang, who are then (with the exception of Woody, who is college bound) donated to the Sunnyside day-care center, where predatory preschoolers manhandle toys like nobody’s business, placing our heroes in real jeopardy, and where some of the seemingly innocuous playthings are, when there are no people around, very much other than what they seem.
The director, Lee Unkrich — who served as the editor of Toy Story and co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo — works from a screenplay by Michael Arndt, Oscar-winning scenarist of Little Miss Sunshine. Arndt’s script may be the film’s ultimate stroke of genius because it’s not afraid to go dark, exploring as it does mortality and change and fear of abandonment and the emotional toll on beloved creatures who no longer feel loved.
And don’t let that G rating mislead you into thinking that the script has no bite. Not only is there a decidedly dark side (maybe too much for especially sensitive wee ones), but there are plenty of suspenseful “action” sequences too, including one indelible set piece that is part of an ingenious send-up of prison-break movies.
If the spark of originality that characterized the original isn’t there, the level of emotional depth makes up for it in a toys-will-be-toys tale that’s terrifically touching in addition to being gloriously clever.
The familiar celebrity voices are back — Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz, and Joan Cusack as cowgirl Jessie — and they’re joined this trip not only by returnees Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and Jodi Benson, but by newcomers Ned Beatty, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michael Keaton.
As hilarious as it is heartwarming, this Toy Story, as before, generates both big laughs and earned tears, aimed as squarely at grownups — especially empty nesters — as it is at kids. Everything works like gangbusters, first and foremost the story itself, which is nuanced and layered and thought-provoking.
Amazingly, no one gets disenfranchised in Toy Story 3: it’s difficult to think of any age group that the screenplay does not in some way speak to. And this is a stand-alone triumph: you don’t have to have experienced the first two installments to follow or enjoy it.
Having given four stars to each of the first two Toy Story movies . . . hmmm, what to do? To infinity and beyond, perhaps? Oh, well, let’s make it another (ho hum, here we go again) 4 stars out of 4 for a delightfully funny and remarkably poignant visit with old friends we still care about. Toy Story 3 is a thrilling threequel, every bit as embraceable as 1 and 2.