It's been more than a decade since we last caught up with Woody, Buzz and the menagerie of playthings inhabiting Andy's toy box. Pixar's pioneering CG-animated series has generated more than $800 million at the box office, so a third film was a certainty, even if it has taken an age to get here. In Toy Story 3, a 17-year-old Andy is packing up and heading off to college and must decide whether to take his toys with him, throw them out or store them in the attic. The choice is a tougher one than Andy makes it out to be, but in the end it's Woody who's selected as the sole companion for the college boy. Several mix-ups ensue and the toys wind up in Sunnyside daycare centre at the mercy of hyperactive toddlers. From there, it's about breaking for freedom and returning home.
The characters, old and new, are as charming as expected, with the pragmatic and grounded Woody (Tom Hanks) trying to corral in his more flamboyant co-stars. Blustering space ranger Buzz (Tim Allen) gets rebooted into Spanish mode and his Latin dance seduction of Jessie (Joan Cusack) provides big laughs, as does Ken doll's (Michael Keaton) unending vanity and Mr. Potato Head's attempt to reassemble himself using a tortilla as his body. It's Timothy Dalton, though, voicing a method-acting luvvie hedgehog called Mr. Pricklepants who stealthily walks away with each scene he's in.
It's this richness of character, along with Pixar's sharp instinct for heart and humour, that has been the foundation for the Toy Story series' success. The animation studio has continued Walt Disney's mantra of "for every laugh, there should be a tear" with warmth and storytelling innovation. Toy Story 3 feels more dynamic and gag-loaded than its predecessors, but still has sight of Pixar's patented emotional core. The opening sequence - a pulpy Indiana Jones-style set piece as imagined by a young Andy - sets the tone for the caper, which takes the form of a jailbreak film in the mould of The Great Escape. All the while, the friendship and camaraderie between the toys is kept in the foreground. A perilous moment towards the end, which sees the plastic pals link hands, and the 'last goodbye' finale won't leave a dry eye in the house.
Toy Story 3 might be viewed as kid's folly by some, but it's smarter than that and acutely aware of another audience entirely: the Gen Y'ers who grew up with the first two movies and look back on them, and their childhood, with rosy nostalgia. Disney's plan to screen the first 65 minutes of the film on US college campuses was an inspired one, because the journey Andy goes on mirrors that of those who've just flown the nest. As people grow up, life moves on, and it's inevitable that they’ll part from people, places and things they love. Toy Story 3 illustrates this movingly and with real poignancy. It's unclear if there'll be more big screen adventures for Woody, Buzz and co. In some ways this film functions as closure, in others it's a passing on of the series to new fans. If Pixar maintains the sky-high standards it has set with its movies, though, Woody and Buzz will always be welcome.
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