If you rent or buy one DVD this year for your children—or grandchildren—make it “Toy Story 3,” which is due out on DVD on Tuesday. The folks at Pixar gave us “Up” (my favorite movie of) last year; they have all but matched that estimable film this year, and they’ve done it with a sequel to a sequel! It’s just right for Christmas, if you’re rushing the season.
Screenwriters Michael Arndt and John Lasseter benefit enormously from having the characters and the actors who voice them back from the previous two. Most familiar will be Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Joan Cusack (Jessie), Don Rickels (Mr. Potato Head), Wallace Shawn (Rex), and John Ratzenberger (Hamm). (You may not recognize his voice—which has deepened over the past fifteen years--but John Morris reprises his role from No.’s 1 and 2 as the toys’ owner, Andy. This talented group is joined by Ned Beatty as the nefarious Lotso Huggin’ Bear, whose strawberry aroma can’t disguise his moral stink, and Michael Keaton as Barbie’s partner, the egotistic clotheshorse Ken.
The writers and the veteran cast clearly have fun with a witty script, full of movie allusions and wordplay. In particular, think old prison break movies, old Westerns, and old romances featuring Latin lovers. The plot combines several of these genres. Andy, now 17, is headed off for college, and his mother (Laurie Metcalf) demands that he decide which of his things he wants to pitch and which to save. His little sister, a tweener, has no interest in his old toys, so they’re likely headed for the attic, perhaps to be used eventually by Andy’s children. They’ve just about reconciled themselves to their fate when they accidentally end up donated to the Sunnyside Day Care Center.
They ignore Woody’s pleas that they remain loyal to Andy and Potato Head’s ominous warning that these centers are “sad and lonely places for toys that have no owners.” In fact, the joint looks like Paradise Regained, with hundreds of other toys and dozens of kids. It turns out to be Hell on toy wheels, though, with the initially jovial Lotso and dreamboy Ken as the head devils.
How they make their break and get to the right place for toys is a story rife with various tensions and emotions: be prepared to chortle and sniffle. Be prepared, too, to enjoy the talent of the Pixar technicians, who fill the screen with clever information, especially in the daycare scenes. I loved the Barbie/Ken interchanges and couldn’t stop laughing when Buzz suddenly breaks into Spanish language and dances.
I recall (dimly) being impressed by the first “Toy Story” when it appeared in 1995; this one may be better, a real rarity in a series, one which appears to be done, if we are to trust the ending. “Toy Story 3” is a true “G”-rated movie: there’s plenty to enjoy for both kids and adults, though they may be laughing in distinctly different places. It’s curiously fitting that the movie arrives on Election Day, when, God knows, we all need a laugh. If you need an antidote to the last few months of concentrated, poisonous nastiness, pick it up.