Pixar films are on target more than any other studio making films today, following in the footsteps of their predecessors in Warner Brothers in producing family oriented films that are as much fun for the adults to watch as the kids. While not every one of their films is a masterpiece, even their “failures” are mediocre but eminently watchable films, with beautiful computer animation, great casts, and amusing character design. One of the best things about the studio’s output is its variability, avoiding repetition, while their distributor, Disney, pounds out films in the same tired formula they’ve clung to for years.
Toy Story 3 is the latest (and one assumes last) installment in the studio’s first franchise. Each Toy Story film involves the idea of toys that come to life whenever humans aren’t around, and each film puts the toys into a crisis they must work together to solve. This time the crisis is that their owner is growing up and they must prepare for their final fate-ideally being sent together to the attic, where they can await the possibility that Andy will give them to his children to play with, but they are threatened with being given away, sold, or simply discarded. When a mix-up results in the toys being put not in the attic, but instead in a donation box going to a preschool, the toys must find a way out and back to Andy and the relative safety of the attic.
Toy Story 3 is, at the moment, an anomaly in Pixar’s output-not just a sequel, but a second sequel, the product of the wrangling that went on between Disney and Pixar. While the resulting film is very entertaining, it is not quite up to the levels of its predecessors. The 3D seemed like an afterthought and added little to the proceedings, though it’s possible that in a larger theater it would have greater impact. The voice casting is, as always with Pixar, excellent, from leads Tom Hanks (The Money Pit) and Tim Allen (Galaxy Quest) to returning supporting cast members Joan Cusack (Toys), Don Rickles (Casino), Wallace Shawn (Strange Invaders), John Ratzenberger (Motel Hell), Estelle Harris (Seinfeld), R. Lee Emery (The Frighteners) and Laurie Metcalf (Scream 2). Joining them are Ned Beatty (1941) as a discarded stuffed bear named Lotso that runs the daycare center; Michael Keaton (Out of Sight) as an over-the-top Ken doll; Timothy Dalton (Flash Gordon) as a hedgehog toy with actor pretensions; Jeff Garlin (Wall-E) as a depressed clown toy; Bonnie Hunt (A Bug’s Life), Whoopi Goldberg (Homer and Eddie), and Richard Kind (A Serious Man). Beatty, Keaton and Dalton really make the most of their screen time, with the understated menace of Beatty and Keaton’s hilarious Ken-as-mob-lieutenant really stealing the show from the established cast. The film only falters a bit in its ending, which almost fools the viewer into expecting and atypically horrible finale before pulling back to a happy ending that’s a bit too convenient (and one hopes is not merely a set up for further sequels). Still, these are minor complaints in a solidly entertaining outing. Recommended for everyone except Pixar haters.