“TOY STORY 3”

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Good news, Pixar fans – the toys are back in town.
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I’m referring, of course, to Pixar’s most famous creations, Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the gang, who aren’t only back on screen in “Toy Story 3”, but can even gloat–among themselves, when no humans are around–that their latest adventure, arguably the most critically acclaimed animated film of 2010, is up for an Oscar as Best Picture.
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This newest installment finds them in quite a pickle.  Andy, the kid who has been playing with them since childhood, is all grown-up now and heading off to college.  Thanks to a mix-up with a pair of garbage bags, Woody and his friends narrowly escape the trash heap, only to find themselves donated to a local day care center where the playthings are ruled with an iron fist by a cuddly little dictator named Lotso (short for “Lots-o’-Huggin'”), a teddy bear that smells like strawberries but is nowhere near as sweet.  When the gang discovers what is really going on at the center — not to mention how disrespectfully a bunch of rambunctious tots tend to play with their toys (Andy was always very gentle with them; these little monsters are not) — they try to escape.  Re-enter Woody, who had gone back to be with Andy.  Very quickly, the questions become: Can Woody lead them to freedom, away from Lotso and his chief lieutenants, including the creepy-looking Big Baby and the “brainwashed” Buzz, who soon is guarding his old pals while they sit trapped in their cells like prisoners? And will Lotso see the error of his ways, and denounce his barbarism and cruelty, or will he watch the newcomers meet their untimely ends as they plunge helplessly into a junkyard furnace?
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As in the previous two films, there are some wonderful little touches: one of Lotso’s henchmen is Ken, who falls immediately for Barbie when she arrives with her friends; Lotso, far from being a Snidely Whiplash type, disarms Sunnyside Day Care’s newest residents with a jugful of syrupy-sweet Southern hospitality and charm; and after Buzz himself escapes, and his pals try to reverse what Lotso and his cronies did to him, Buzz turns into a full-fledged “Latin lover” and tries to impress Woody’s rootin’-tootin’ girlfriend, Jessie.
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The acting, as usual, is first-rate.  All the regulars are back, including Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz, Don Rickles and Estelle Harris as Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head…and then there are the guest stars like Michael Keaton as the vain and vapid Ken, and, as Lotso, film vet Ned Beatty, who is as dangerous and deceitful as any baddie in a live-action flick today.
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The colors are vibrant, the suspense real, and the gang’s escape truly hair-raising (very young children might find the toys’ near-plunge into the fiery furnaces of hell – at least that’s what it looks like – a little TOO scary).  The movie even concludes with a charming little epilogue involving Andy, his rescued toys, and an adorable little girl who lives down the street and would just love a new set of playthings.
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You’ll love this movie, too, I think, whether you have kids, or not.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny in some spots, moving in others.  And, like the multi-dimensional film it is, it’s sweet-natured, besides.  (A movie with a heart – no wonder it’s more than capable of holding its own against the other Oscar contenders.)
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If this is the last “Toy Story” – and it might be – it’s good to know that Woody and Co. didn’t go out with a whimper… but with a bang.
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FILM REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien