REVIEW: Toy Story 3 Brings Series to Brilliant, Bittersweet Close

Movieline Score: 9

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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  • Rishi Mehta says:

    The Dark Knight is better than Batman Begins

  • XTRMNTR says:

    Nicely written review, though Lotso is definitely not blue. He's red--and strawberry-scented!

  • Brent says:

    Nice review, Stephanie. I've been missing your witty, cunning writing on Salon. Just found out this is where you ended up. Cheers.

  • Duly noted, thanks!

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    It should give you nightmares. Two futures are presented in this film, one that will soon be familiar to the cast-aside -- a nightmare of being used, tortured and ruled over, without respite, until you're broken and finally gone -- and the other for those who have found some way to sculpt themselves to be relevant -- another couple decades of feeling vital to the future of the American dream. I think most liberals feel that if they continue to fight for the impoverished, to fully side with them, they risk joining the nightmare of junk, and sense that if they only persuade themselves Brad Bird-like that there is simply no hope for the damaged-to-the-point-of-grotesque, that they can continue to accumulate and thrive, enjoying even a sense of now rare election (in a suitably self-downplaying way, of course): it's simply the way of the times. Bird showed he was for construing society so that many of those who saw his films should probably rot, a few films ago. Wall-E showed Lasseter still moved by enough of something special, that he seemed still for all of us. Not here, though. Another liberal on the other side. May he at least feel guilt pains.
    "It's vintage!": for safety, another clue to abandon your status as a hipster, and possibly as a homosexual.

  • Thanks for the fantastic blog. I look forward to checking back in.

  • Manual Chalk says:

    I am not sure I agree with the last comment.

  • Thanks for the nice blog. I look forward to checking back in.

  • I am not sure I agree with the last comment.

  • richie-rich says:

    saw TOY STORY over the weekend, and your lovely review, Stephanie Z. is right on the MONEY. AND did it make money....!

  • Trace says:

    It was pretty good, but I think, rather than have Lotso summarize his worldwview to the the toys near the climax, I would have shown him alone with the baby more. The heros have a suprising nice chemistry considering the time that's passed since the last movie.

  • Cindy says:

    Great review! I can hardly wait to see it now. Thanks

  • Thanks for the fantastic writing. I will be returning.

  • To conclude, disagreeing with this brief review to any degree might possibly be censorship, and that is common for both you and your misdefined 19th-century agenda.

  • ADShin says:

    Stephanie, I've been missing you on, but found you here. Your reviews, as always, are some of the best written in the industry. I agree wholeheartedly with your review of Toy Story 3, especially about the ending, and how it is mostly joyous, with a tinge of bittersweet. Hope you are doing well and enjoying it at, and will continue to be an enthusiastic fan of your film reviews.

  • Denim Jean says:

    her name is shannon, my friend from highschool and yeah.. smokin is right. sorry shannon haha

  • Junggai says:

    Good review, but you fluffed one plot point. The wild chase scene at the beginning is indeed a fantasy, but not the toys' fantasy while being unplayed as you write, rather Andy's make-believe taking place during the camcorder montage of his growing-up.

  • Ella says:

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