Reel Time
Dale Hill

            Great flaming cat whiskers, has it been 15 years since the first “Toy Story?” It was indeed 1995, I was getting alarmingly close to middle age, and I was still sitting in the theater muttering “Look out!” and “Ooo, be careful!” to the cartoon characters on the screen.

            Now, at the final installment of the trilogy, I was sitting there doing exactly the same thing, plus misting up at all the right places, and laughing my fool head off. In other words, Pixar has done it again.

            In the midst of every summer's avalanche of blockbusters, which range from Hooray to Ho-Hum, it's nice to know that Pixar can be relied on to come out with a computer-animated entry every year that's undeniably brilliant, instantly lovable, and fabulously entertaining.

            I don't imagine anyone within the (figurative) sound of my voice needs a refresher on the previous Toy Stories, so I'll just suggest the new set-up: Andy is now 17 and about to leave for college, so the toys are in a state of high anxiety about their future. Will they be assigned to the attic? Donated to day care? Or (gasp) trashed? “C'mon,” says one, “let's see how much we're going for on eBay.”

            Elements of all these fates figure in the zany, fast-moving yet easy-to-follow story, in which our favorite family of toys meet new colleagues, such as Mr. Pricklepants (voiced by Timothy Dalton), a hedgehog with a yen to play Shakespeare; and Ned Beatty as Lots-O'-Huggin', a genial-sounding purple bear who's not to be trusted.

            The toys evade perils ranging from the Star Wars dumpster to Tolkien's Mount Doom, but of course the greatest jeopardy is the human, emotional pain of letting go, which toys, as we know, feel as acutely as humans.

            This thing about the pain is something we all are familiar with from Disney; don't tell me you've forgotten Bambi's mother? In fact, one of Walt's best-known axioms is, “For every laugh there should be a tear.”

            The odd thing about this dictum is that it gets more effective as we age. Eight-year-olds are horrified at what happens to Bambi's mom, but mostly they don't sob into their sleeves; that's what their parents do, surreptitiously. There are moments in “Toy Story 3,” and it's always the lovely ones rather than the scary ones, where the grown-ups are hiding the puddles behind their 3D glasses. It may be because we're more aware of how close to the attic, or the dumpster, we all are.

            Don't let me lead you to believe that “Toy Story 3” is a sob story! It's actually a marvel how the creators have managed to pack so much real emotion into an animated comedy that's really, really funny in ways that affect all ages. If you had told me beforehand that toddlers would find it hysterical when Buzz is knocked into Spanish mode and requires subtitles, I would have scoffed, but there you are. (And every one will gain a new appreciation of Flamenco dancing, and Barbie's grasp of political theory.)

            It is Pixar, after all, that gave us “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “WALL-E,” and, personal favorite, “Ratatouille.” They know what they're doing. And one thing they've done here is reassemble as many of the old voice actors as possible, including Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as Woody and Buzz: simply wouldn't work without them. And for pinpoint continuity, they have the original Andy, John Morris, back as his college-age self, which makes the toys, and the audience, feel all cozy.

            “Toy Story” was of course the first completely computer-generated animated feature, a technique which has become standard to all, save a few directors such as Hayao Miyazaki. Now several animated features have come out in 3D; “Toy Story 3” is the first 3D feature for Pixar, after they had toyed with some retrofitting for earlier films. The use of the technology in “Toy Story 3” shows remarkable restraint, in that it adds depth and texture to the visuals without resorting to tricks that make you gasp, such as a meteor or something hurtling past your ear. Treats such as the opening scene, where Woody and Jessie rescue a trainload of Troll orphans in Monument Valley, are as glorious as anything you're ever likely to see. But it's the humor, courage, loyalty, and love of the characters that you'll take home.


P.S. – Pixar has single-handedly resurrected the before-the-feature cartoon, and some of these have become classics as well. This time, a short called “Day and Night” uses one simple, brilliant idea that nobody has ever thought of before. It will blow you away. Don't be late.