Pixar's almost speed bump–free track record (sorry, "Cars") dates back to its first picture: 1995's "Toy Story." The third—and presumably final—installment in the studio's signature franchise is driven by the same basic plot element that guided the first two. Woody (voiced once again by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and their anthropomorphic toy friends are separated by mishap from young Andy, their owner, and must make their way back to him. Only in "Toy Story 3," Andy is 17 and about to head to college. He hasn't played with his toys in years and even refers to them once as "junk." When Andy's mother mistakes an attic-bound garbage bag for rubbish, the toys' faith in their beloved owner is shaken. Heartbroken, they steal away to a nearby daycare center that seems, at first, like a paradise of constant affection compared to the cooling relationship they left back at home.
There is a lot in "Toy Story 3" that entertains. The pop-culture references are clever enough to feel fresh, even when they tread on well-worn turf ("Star Wars," Ken and Barbie). The best, funniest moments—in a script penned by four Pixar veterans, including studio chief John Lasseter—come often from an adult's sensibility. (Plunked down in a group of actorly toys, Woody is assured by a stuffed unicorn, "We do a lot of improv here. Just stay loose, have fun. You'll be fine.") When they don't, they conjure that sense of "magic" that all commercial art aimed at children strives for but is most often overshot.
But what makes "Toy Story 3" cartoon canon fodder is its emotional core. Yes, this is a story about a talking doll who shouts, "There's a snake in my boot!" when you pull his string. But it's also a story about what happens when passion fades and old lovers drill deep in search of reserves of affection that time has buried. It's heady stuff for a kids' movie—hell, these days, for any studio movie. "Toy Story 3," like the best Pixar movies, like the best movies period, challenges its audience instead of condescending to it.
Genre: Comedy. Written by: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich. Directed by: Lee Unkrich. Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty.