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An emotional second sequel

by Tyler Wilson
| June 25, 2010 9:00 PM

Second sequels aren't supposed to be good. The very idea of a "Toy Story 3" should have been a major concern to the billion adoring fans of the original "Toy Story" and its equally stellar sequel.

Of course, this is Pixar we're talking about, and "Toy Story 3" is yet another gem in the studio's unprecedented winning streak. Tightly plotted with suspense and big laughs, "Toy Story 3" is also the most emotionally wrenching of any Pixar film to date, and its heart-tugging final act is the perfect cap to one of the most creatively successful trilogies of all time.

Take that, "Star Wars."

The new film re-introduces Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang at a period of great uncertainty. The toys haven't been played with in years, and their owner, Andy, is bound for college. With Andy's mother unable to distinguish garbage from a bag of attic-bound, beloved playthings, the toys end up facing that great dumpster by the street.

But rather than landing in the incinerator, the gang is donated to Sunnyside, a seemingly idyllic day care center where kids are always looking for a good toy. Lotso, a strawberry-scented teddy bear with a dark-chocolate past, operates the day care at night, and his good-natured, Southern hospitality is, of course, too good to be true. New toys, it turns out, are assigned to the toddler room where kids don't understand the concept of gentle play (just where are the adults to take away Mr. Potato Head's small parts?).

The opening half of "Toy Story 3" is both amusing and exhausting, introducing us to an abundance of new characters - the best being Michael Keaton's hilarious take on a fashion-forward Ken doll. The movie goes from agreeable, B-level entertainment to something much more powerful in the second half, where the toys hatch an elaborate escape plan in an effort to get home.

Its biggest laughs and suspense come from director Lee Unkrich (a co-director on "Toy Story 2") and his Pixar animators riffing on old breakout movies like "The Great Escape" and "Cool Hand Luke." There's even a nefarious, cymbal-smashing security monkey and an informant Chatter Telephone. As if that weren't enough, Mr. Potato Head (voiced again by the great Don Rickles) tries on some new skin and Buzz accidentally gets reprogrammed to Spanish mode.

Then "Toy Story 3" becomes something quite surprising for a G-rated movie about plastic playthings. As the peril continues to escalate, Woody and the gang face their literal demise. One quiet scene amidst a relentless action sequence just might be the best cinematic moment ever manufactured by computer animation. Don't you dare let anyone spoil it for you.

I won't touch on the final act either, though many critics have let the secret out to discuss what is now already considered to be the most emotional stretch of any Pixar film to date (the opening minutes of "Up" included). It's a nearly flawless final stretch, and the perfect end to the "Toy Story" franchise. It will probably even turn the most hard-skinned tough guy into a blubbering weenie.

It used to be that critics had to convince audiences that Pixar films were so much more than child entertainment. The studio's previous efforts have already destroyed that misconception. This movie changes the argument altogether.

Frankly, if you can't find something to like about "Toy Story 3," perhaps you should give up on movies completely.

Grade: A

Ticket Stubs is sponsored by the Hayden Cinema Six Theater. Tyler Wilson can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com. Read more reviews and pop culture commentary at www.NormdogEntertainment.com.

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