“Toy Story 3” – Odyssey in Plastic

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Young, old or in-between, you may never look upon your playthings the same way after seeing director Lee Unkrich’s “Toy Story 3.” Beautifully co-written with Michael Arndt, John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, the wonderfully sentimental tale now updates us on the fate of Andy’s toy box denizens as he prepares for college. It’s a fine adventure.

Entertaining on several levels, it sings a paean to the little friends in whom we imbue our dreams, aspirations, wishes, and, of course, even our fears. And thus by extension, the film is a heartfelt celebration of childhood and its fondest pal, our imagination. To quote cast member Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), its creativity goes, “To infinity and beyond.”

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This is seriously funny stuff. A host of Hollywood notables, many of them recognizable despite their celluloid/polyethylene makeup, superbly emote the raison d’etre of those toys who, somewhere on their person, proudly bear a mark denoting they are the property of “Andy.” But, what is to become of them? There was never a plan for this eventuality.

Pausing for a second, it’s hard to believe fifteen years have passed since Andy’s (John Morris) retinue of playtime accomplices first divulged their inner souls to us. And now, here’s Mom (Laurie Metcalf), sharing our pride as she shepherds sonny boy through the physical and emotional task of leaving the homestead for the journey to higher education.

Ominously, she places two receptacles in the young man’s room. One is a cardboard box. The other, gasp, is a black garbage bag. Fear spreads like wildfire through the tight knit toy community. Woody, the tacitly agreed leader superbly voiced by Tom Hanks, attempts to assuage concerns. The cowboy assures the gang Andy won’t forsake them.

Naturally, mix-up and mishap, those handmaidens of drama, must enter the picture if we are to be treated to an escapade ripe with heroes, villains and the philosophical wisdom that comes of their eternal clash. Expect some metaphors, too. Without divulging too much, suffice it to note that the crew is soon tarrying at the Sunnyside Daycare Center.

Strangers in a strange land and still in shock, on first blush it’s shades of the Joad family in “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) when they land at the Weedpatch Sanitary Camp. Lotso, a jovial bear of a bear verbalized by Ned Beatty in his best Southern, custodial drawl, greets them. He explains the Sunnyside mission. Hey, this might not be so bad.

But alas, it is still early in the movie, and Junior knows as well as we do that the reward at the end of the rainbow is rarely attained in the first act. A suspicion that something may be rotten at Sunnyside arises when our émigrés are assigned to the toddler section. Gee, those little ones sure play rough. And perhaps big Lotso isn’t what he seems.

Breathing life into the players, a delightful band of articulators instantly suspends our disbelief. Never short of common sense heroics, Tom Hanks notably reprises Woody; Joan Cusack is staunch cowgirl Jessie; Don Rickles inflects Mr. Potato Head’s bravado; Estelle Harris is his proud wife; and John Ratzenberger frets anew as piggybank Hamm.

Gosh, we sure hope things work out for them. But in the meantime, the filmmakers seize the occasion of their travail as an opportunity to impart a kiddy level tutorial in poli-sci; a seminar in satire with an emphasis in classical film reference; and a stimulating primer in freedom, self determination and the revolutionary thinking necessary to those goals.

Therefore, we can be assured that Connor and Tiffany are subliminally learning how to be good citizens as well as appreciators of artistic nuance while they deliriously laugh their heads off courtesy of the Disney-Pixar connection. And let’s not forget the astute moral lessons that should make this forced viewing for the ethically lost Me Generation.

Happily, parents, grandparents and designated caretakers won’t require any arm-twisting to usher their respective moppets to a viewing of “Toy Story 3.” But folks without such responsibilities are urged not to be deterred from attendance. The film will soon enough reacquaint them with a pair of youngsters: their inner child, and the kid they once were.

It’s not quite the fantasy fulfillment they say Ponce de León sought. But the fact that it taps a humorously nostalgic vein for adults is good indication that it’s in touch with the very essences of childhood. Stuffed with sweet thoughts, exciting action and goodwill, the nomination-worthy “Toy Story 3” proves that the third time is indeed the charm.

“Toy Story 3,” rated G, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Lee Unkrich and stars the voices of Tom Hanks, Joan Cusack and Ned Beatty. Running time: 103 minutes


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