It is, tragically, not widely known exactly how good "Toy Story 3" is. Anyone who assumes that this is just another sequel in a summer of them (even in a great series) needs to understand — this is a moving and rather brilliant series end.
Thank God, then, that the creative people who make movies at Disney — the writers, animators, directors etc. — share none of the chilliness that distinguishes the corporation's marketing team. Frankly, I think that if the creators at Disney shared the human empathy and love for the audience of the latter, you'd be hard put to get people in a prison to sit through "Toy Story 3."
They'd be screaming to be taken back to their cells in 10 minutes and rioting thereafter.
So good, though, are the people who actually MADE "Toy Story 3" (rather than were charged with selling it) that it's going to be one of the more notable films of the summer. So don't, by any means, assume that this is just another disposable product in a successful brand that, like some aged toy, has outlived its usefulness.
So spectacular, as always, is the Pixar digital animation, and so strong is Lee Unkrich's direction that the very possibility of creative exhaustion in a series' second sequel has been worked into the movie itself.
Which makes it, at the end, scary and gloriously visual when Andy's beloved toys are threatened with a fiery apocalypse and, yes, genuinely moist-eyed and moving when the movie is over. And not all that much, thus far, in the advance marketing and early reports about the movie has conveyed that fact nearly enough it seems to me. (I'm not a Disney stockholder but if I were one and I saw how very good this movie is, despite being a second sequel, I'd jolly well want to know why that fact weren't widely known. This is NOT just a throwaway franchise burger.)
The idea this time is that Andy, who owns all those wonderfully voiced toys, is 17 and going off to college. So what is he going to do with the contents of his toybox—give them to his already toy-spoiled little sister Molly? Put them in the attic? Take them to college? (In the case of his favorite Woody, he considers it.)
It's true that, to some extent, there's a long battle in this movie between the forces of creative exhaustion and energetic invention, but invention wins outright long before it's over.
And this time around, the meeting of Barbie and Ken, now wearing the world's silliest pair of shorts — and all subsequent variations thereof—is, as the venerably crass old judgment goes, worth the price of admission. Several had me guffawing (had I been less than 3 feet tall, I might not have entirely understood exactly how funny those jokes are).
And, as always, the "Toy Story" movies have the aristocracy of digitally animated casts — this time around Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, R. Lee Ermey and Laurie Metcalf returning and meeting up with "Toy Story" newbies Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton (hilarious as Ken), Whoopi Goldberg, and, yes, Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants — a five-word phrase, in itself to be savored.)
"Toy Story 3"
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
With the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Blake Clark and Wallace Shawn. Directed by Lee Unkrich. 103 minutes. Rated G. Opened Friday in area theaters.