Third ‘Toy Story’ recovers nicely from lackluster beginning

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, June 16, 2010 9:52am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The first two “Toy Story” movies made as eloquent a case as anything since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” that cartoon films were the real deal: smart, emotional experiences that created a world uniquely suited to animation.

It would be amazing if “Toy Story 3” lived up to that level of achievement and, to cut right to the chase, it doesn’t. But Pixar’s new offering, a sequel that follows an 11-year gap since the previous installment, gets past a slow start for a barn-burner of a third act.

From the beginning, the “Toy Story” movies have been based on sound storytelling ideas. Proposing that toys have souls, the animated main characters have two overriding concerns: They live to play and be played with, and they know someday they will be cast aside.

How much more human could they be? That’s the bittersweet secret of the series.

In “Toy Story 3,” the owner of the toys, Andy, is now a 17-year-old on his way to college. By misadventure, his toys find themselves carted off to a day care center, where an apparently cuddly stuffed animal, who smells of strawberry and goes by the name Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear, actually runs a ruthless dictatorship. He is voiced by Ned Beatty, an inspired casting choice.

We also see the long-awaited meeting of Barbie (Jodi Benson) and Ken (Michael Keaton, hilarious), who have some of the movie’s funniest moments in their disco/karate/hippie theme outfits.

Meanwhile, returning regulars Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the rest, are conflicted: Should they play with the new kids at the day care or finding their way back to Andy’s house?

The early reels are surprisingly slack and could use a little comic punch. But once the nefarious designs of Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear become clear, and the toys form an escape plan, the film kicks into gear.

Pixar rarely skates over the surface, even when they could, and “Toy Story 3” is no exception. There’s an astounding sequence set at the city dump, where the toys share an existential moment of resignation about their fate, that could easily freak out younger viewers. It’s going to take me a few days to get over it myself.

And of course there’s a heart-tugging ending, which doesn’t quite reach the handkerchief-dampening heights of “Toy Story 2,” but will serve well enough.

The movie’s in 3-D in some theaters, which neither adds nor subtracts anything of weight; The Pixar animators don’t use the gimmick for its own sake. The movie will have the same impact in 2-D.

I suppose this will be it for the “Toy Story” features, which is probably right. They’ve gone through an entire life cycle for toys and have earned a rest on the shelf.

“Toy Story 3” ½

There’s no way this Pixar sequel could match the peerless level of the first two films, and it doesn’t, but after a slow start this one gets into gear, and the third act is a barn-burner. Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys find themselves at a day care center, where they hatch a daring escape plan. Bring your handkerchiefs.

Rated: G

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Edmonds, Everett Stadium, Monroe, Marysville, Olympic, Stanwood, Cinerama, Pacific Place, Neptune, Thornton, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Oak Harbor, Cascade Mall. Some theaters will have midnight showings tonight. Call theaters to find out.

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