Since his introduction by Pixar over a decade ago, Woody the toy cowboy (Tom Hanks) has faced dangers and adversaries of many varieties. In TOY STORY 1, it was Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) stealing the number one position in owner Andys heart, and that psychotic kid next door who did unfortunate things to the toys that fell into his grasp. In TOY STORY 2, it was a venal toy seller looking to cash in on Woodys collectibility by shipping him off to Japan. Through it all, Woody, level-headed and good-humored, has always saved the day as well as his place in Andys heart, while always keeping the morale high among his fellow toys. In Toy Story 3, though, Woody faces up to something that cant be saved, cant be changed, and cant be ignored. Andy has outgrown playing with his toys, even Buzz, even Woody. Now 17 and something of a prodigy, Andy is going off to college and the fate of his toys, already feeling neglected, seems dire, with losing Andy the least of the toys worries.
Andy is taking Woody with him, but he tosses the rest of the gang in a garbage bag to be put away in the attic. Through a series of mishaps, they think that Andy has thrown them away and Woody, rather than remain in the safety of the packing box hes been put in, rushes off to save them. Thus begins the long journey from the security of a kid who loved them but grew up, to a day care center that seems like heaven, to an ending that is poetic, upbeat, and yet completely heartbreaking acknowledging as it does the ruthless and inescapable way that time passes.
The day care center, toy division anyway, is run by strawberry-scented teddy bear Lotso Hugs (Ned Beatty) and his sidekick Big Baby, a truly terrifying baby doll who has survived traumas undreamed of and has the face to prove it. The toys quickly learn the meaning of age-appropriate when it comes to toys, and regret not making a break for freedom with Woody when he decided to go back to Andy.
The story itself involves another round of close calls and wild chases, as Woody and company weather close calls that really do seem like curtains for them all. The writing is as sharp as ever, with spine-tingling action, fiery romance, groovy glamour (courtesy of new character Ken voiced with pompous vanity by Michael Keaton) to match the 80s chic of Barbie (Jodie Benson). Its also just as emotionally engaging, making each close call, each broken heart, each burgeoning romance nothing short of riveting.
Each character is given his or her moment in the spotlight without slowing down the pace one whit. Each is as vivid as ever, written with enormous personalities and endearing quirks that are integral to them. Effervescent cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), thoughtful if slow Rex the dinosaur (mush-mouthed Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) the concretely thinking piggy bank, earnest Slinky Dog (Blake Clark taking over from and sounding just like the late Jim Varney), and the bickering Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris). Even Bulls Eye the horse, with only a few whinnies and sighs is fully developed. The writers find new territory for them, particularly the brash and impulsive Buzz, and discovers new dimensions in a cotton cosmetic pad that are brilliant both for the imagination and execution involved.
Once again, the humans dont know that their playthings are sentient, much less capable of speech and of working out complicated missions, such as crossing streets. As with the other films, this one is told entirely from the toys emotional point of view. So when Woody and Buzz engage in a philosophical debate of surprising depth about the relative merits of belonging to one kid and always putting that kid first versus the freedom of belonging to none at the day care center where a new crop of kids is always around to play with them, there is a sophisticated resonance to the very serious emotional stakes each side champions. The sense of belonging with its attendant fear of abandonment, the which cowgirl Jessie feels the most keenly, having gone through it before, is a hard sell when the day care center where they find themselves offers an endless supply of kids ready to play with them and moving on before they can grow tired of them.
TOY STORY 3, whether in 2- or 3-D is a richly rewarding film, as full of laughter and razzle-dazzle as it is comforting warmth. The story, rooted as it is in a real world problem, doesnt condescend to its audience with easy answers, or simple emotions. It does, however, deliver a terrific film with characters that are as real as a kids sense of wonder, and the kind of magic that transports everyone in the audience, regardless of age.