Who's In It: The voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Jodi Benson, Blake Clark, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, Teddy Newton, Bonnie Hunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Timothy Dalton, Kristen Schaal, Jeff Garlin, R. Lee Ermey
The Basics: Andy's all grown up and heading to college, which leaves the fates of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang up in the air. As the toys resign themselves to a second life stuck in a box in the attic with no one to play with, a mishap transports them to the seemingly idyllic Sunnyside Daycare, where the eager toys can be played with for the rest of their man-made lives. But Sunnyside has a sinister side; ruled by a giant, strawberry-scented plush dictator named Lots-O'-Huggin'-Bear (Ned Beatty), the place is really a prison where newbie toys are sacrificed to the vicious toddler room and seldom make it out alive. Woody must choose between his own solo shot at happiness and breaking his pals out of toy prison, resulting in a surprisingly moving last act that'll leave you in tears.
What's The Deal: Fans couldn't have asked for a better send-off for Woody, Buzz, and Co. With that patented Pixar formula of thrills, laughs, and plenty of pathos -- not to mention top-notch animation, expressive voice work and unforgettable characters -- Toy Story 3 not only delivers the goods as an engaging animated adventure, it also gives the characters we've come to love the farewell they deserve. The script, by director Lee Unkrich, Michael Arndt, and Pixar powerhouses Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter (the latter three of whom have all won Oscars; expect Unkrich to get his chance come awards season) unfolds in disparate parts that play with different genres to mostly pleasing effect. Most importantly, the plot developments allow characters to gradually come to terms with the film's overreaching themes of friendship and loss, taking us right along with them on every step of that poignant journey and bringing our heroes (and the franchise) full circle.
The New Faces: Recurring characters get their share of laughs -- Buzz is reset to Spanish mode, Mr. Potato Head goes incognito in various other foodstuffs -- but meeting the new characters is one of the joys of Toy Story 3. There's Buttercup the sarcastic unicorn (Jeff Garlin) and his housemates, the aspiring thespian hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) and Trixie the Triceratops (Kristen Schaal, who oozes adorable). An old-school chatter telephone (Teddy Newton) and the downtrodden Chuckles the Clown (Bud Luckey) play as if pulled from the pages of a pulp noir. But appropriately enough, nobody steals the spotlight quite like Ken (Michael Keaton), a dapper metrosexual with a clothing fetish who falls for Barbie at first sight and asks her to move into his dream house.
The Super Heavy Ideas That Kids Might Not Recognize Until They Watch It Again, Years Later: That sometimes loved ones leave us, or we leave them. That sometimes we put family in retirement homes (or in the attic) because we can't take them with us. That life and death are both easier to deal with when you're with the people you love. And most of all, that the most important thing is to celebrate the time you've had with friends or family -- or the owners who used to play with you, or the characters you've come to know and laugh and cry with over the course of three incredibly moving films.
To 3D, Or Not To 3D? The animation and direction in Toy Story 3 is so good that it'll draw you in whether or not you're watching Woody stand in the foreground in three dimensions. A few action scenes pop more than others in 3D, but for the most part this is not a movie that needs any gimmicks to succeed. What's more, the Disney Digital 3D treatment here results in a considerably dimmer presentation that reduces the vibrancy and brightness of the film itself. Besides, your tears will well up inside those pesky 3D glasses and leave you with telling wet marks as you exit the theater. See it in 2D and you'll be better equipped to conceal your uncontrollable weeping.
Bonus Piece Of Poignant Filmmaking On A Similar Theme Of Friendship: The Pixar short Day & Night, which plays before Toy Story 3. Deceptively simplistic in design, it tells the story of two wary strangers who meet, spar, and find common ground, using no dialogue save a disembodied voice encouraging folks to embrace the beauty in the unknown.