REVIEW: Toy Story 3 Brings Series to Brilliant, Bittersweet Close
The problem with sequels isn't always, necessarily, that they're worse than the movies they're piggybacking onto. Some -- The Godfather, Part II, The Empire Strikes Back -- actually improve on their predecessors. The worst thing about sequels is the air of desperation about them, which often starts gathering long before they're actually released. Particularly in this economic climate, everyone in Hollywood wants a hit, so the marketing machines for big summer sequels kick in early and hard. As a way of protecting ourselves from disappointment or, worse yet, heartbreak, moviegoers tend to respond with a mix of anticipation and suspicion. Which is why, in the past few months, plenty of us have been asking, "Do we really need a Toy Story 3?"
The answer, which may surprise you as much as it did me, is that we do. Toy Story 3 is a jailbreak adventure, a meditation on the need to move on to new things even when we're not quite ready for them, a comedy that, at last, revels in the cracked genius of Ken doll outfits. It's also funny without trying too hard, the kind of movie in which a character -- in this case, Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear -- can say with a perfectly straight face, "We respectfully request a transfer to the Butterfly Room" and make the line work. A sequel made with care and integrity, Toy Story 3 is just moving enough: It winds its way gently toward its big themes instead of grabbing desperately at them, and because its plot is so beautifully worked out, getting there is almost all of the fun.
The movie opens with an elaborate, somewhat garish Wild-West adventure in which Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz, along with cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) and the rest of the gang must save a train full of orphans (that is to say, about 100 identical, wide-eyed Wishniks) from certain peril. But these crazy acts of derring-do are pure fantasy: The toys haven't been played with in ages -- they languish, forgotten, in the toy box -- and now that their owner, Andy (John Morris), is heading off to college, they face a future of attic storage or, worse, being tossed into the back of a garbage truck.
After a series of mishaps and misunderstandings -- and after accepting a discarded Barbie doll (Jodi Benson) into their ranks -- this despondent group end up at a day-care center named Sunnyside, where the toys in residence greet them with a friendly cheer of "New toys!" A pudgy if somewhat saggy pink bear with a voice straight out of Tennessee Williams country welcomes them warmly -- a bit too warmly -- to their new home, a place where, he promises, they'll once again be played with. Lotso Huggin' Bear is his name (his voice belongs to Ned Beatty), and he introduces our heroes to his fellow inmates, er, friends: Some are very old and battle-scarred and have seen it all (like the Fisher-Price Phone, with its world-weary, perpetually rolling eyes). Others are of more recent vintage: A '70s-minted Ken (Michael Keaton) welcomes the gang to his "dream house," whose features he proudly details with the wave of one very stiff arm, the most wondrous of these, in his estimation, being "a whole room just for trying on clothes."
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