Review: 'Toy Story 3'

(Four stars)

I don't know what's in the water over there at Pixar Animation Studios, but I'd sure love a cup. Pixar's storytelling masterminds serve up yet another exceptional film -- this one the third in the uber-popular "Toy Story" franchise -- packed with humor, imagination, adventure and emotional resonance.

"Toy Story 3" is easily one of the best movies of the year and an early safe bet for the Best Animated Picture Academy Award. Welcome back, Woody and Buzz -- we've missed you.

Life is a crossroads for cowboy doll Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), cosmic action figure Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen) and the rest of the plush and plastic gang as their once-young owner Andy prepares to leave for college. Higher learning and playtime don't exactly mesh, so Andy has a tough choice to make: pack up the toys and store them in the attic, give them away or toss them out with the afternoon garbage.

Crossed signals between Andy and his mom land the crew -- which includes Andy's younger sister's unwanted Barbie (voice of Jodi Benson) -- in a donation box and they're quickly sent off to Sunnyside Daycare.

At first, Sunnyside seems like paradise for cast-away toys. Sunnyside's big toy on campus is a seemingly gracious and pleasant teddy bear named Lotso (voice of Ned Beatty) and there appears to be no shortage of jolly children eager to romp around with new playthings. But Lotso's affable exterior is just that, and soon Buzz and his pals find themselves stuck in prison-like surroundings, thrashed by chaotic toddlers.

Meanwhile, Woody hooks up with a sweet and playful young girl named Bonnie (voice of Emily Hahn), whose demeanor is reminiscent of Andy's when he was young. Despite Woody's newfound comfort, his compassion for his friends quickly encourages him to stage the biggest jail bust this side of Legoland.

"Toy Story 3" is rife with hilarious scenarios, such as when Buzz is inadvertently switched into Spanish mode and he takes on the characteristics of a suave Latino romantic. A wealth of new characters adds to the vibrant energy. Barbie's counterpart Ken (voice of Michael Keaton) -- a Sunnyside resident -- is especially entertaining and perfectly depicted. Tongue-in-cheek undertones about Ken's feminine tendencies are clever and riotous ("I'm not a girl's toy! Why do people keep saying that?").

A G-rated film that appeals to both adults and children alike is a rare breed and exactly what top-notch family fare is all about. The bond that has developed amongst Andy's toys, and the attachment Andy himself has to them, is poignant and heartfelt. And "Toy Story 3" ends incredibly well, perfectly wrapping the three pictures into one tremendous trilogy.

The toys are back in town and they're better than ever.

Rated G. 1 hour, 32 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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