There is greatness in film that can be discussed, dissected, and talked about late into the night. Then there is genius that is right in front of our faces--we smile at the spell it puts us into and are refreshed, and nary a word needs to be spoken. This kind of entertainment is what they used to call "movie magic," and there is loads of it in this irresistible computer animation feature. Just a picture of these bright toys reawaken the kid in us. Filmmaker John Lasseter thinks of himself as a storyteller first and an animator second, much like another film innovator, Walt Disney.
Lasseter's story is universal and magical: what do toys do when they're not played with? Cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Andy's favorite bedroom toy, tries to calm the other toys (some original, some classic) during a wrenching time of year--the birthday party, when newer toys may replace them. Sure enough, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is the new toy that takes over the throne. Buzz has a crucial flaw, though--he believes he's the real Buzz Lightyear, not a toy. Lasseter further scores with perfect voice casting, including Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head and Wallace Shawn as a meek dinosaur. The director-animator won a special Oscar for "the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film." In other words, the movie is great. --Doug Thomas
Toy Story 2
John Lasseter and his gang of high-tech creators at Pixar create another entertainment for the ages. Like the few great movie sequels, Toy Story 2 comments on why the first one was so wonderful while finding a fresh angle worthy of a new film. The craze of toy collecting becomes the focus here, as we find out Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is not only a beloved toy to Andy but also a rare doll from a popular '60s children's show. When a greedy collector takes Woody, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) launches a rescue mission with Andy's other toys. To say more would be a crime because this is one of the most creative and smile-inducing films since, well, the first Toy Story.
Although the toys look the same as in the 1994 feature, Pixar shows how much technology has advanced: the human characters look more human, backgrounds are superior, and two action sequences that book-end the film are dazzling. And it's a hoot for kids and adults. The film is packed with spoofs, easily accessible in-jokes, and inspired voice casting (with newcomer Joan Cusack especially a delight as Cowgirl Jessie). But as the Pixar canon of films illustrates, the filmmakers are storytellers first. Woody's heart-tugging predicament can easily be translated into the eternal debate of living a good life versus living forever. Toy Story 2 also achieved something in the U.S. two other outstanding 1999 animated features (The Iron Giant, Princess Mononoke) could not: it became a huge box-office hit. --Doug Thomas
Toy Story 3
What made the original Toy Story so great, besides its significant achievement as the first-ever feature-length computer animated film, was its ability to instantly transport viewers into a magical world where it seemed completely plausible that toys were living, thinking beings who sprang to life the minute they were alone and wanted nothing more than to be loved and played with by their children. Toy Story 3 absolutely succeeds in the very same thing--adults and children alike, whether they've seen the original film or not, find themselves immediately immersed in a world in which Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Ham (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn), the aliens, and the rest of Andy's toys remain completely devoted to Andy (John Morris) even as he's getting ready to pack up and leave for college. Woody scoffs at the other toys' worries that they'll end up in the garbage, assuring them that they've earned a spot of honor in the attic, but when the toys are mistakenly donated to Sunnyside Daycare, Woody is the only toy whose devotion to Andy outweighs the promise of getting played with each and every day. Woody sets off toward home alone while the other toys settle in for some daycare fun, but things don't turn out quite as expected at the daycare thanks to the scheming, strawberry-scented old-timer bear Lots-o'-Huggin' (Ned Beatty). Eventually, Woody rejoins his friends and they all attempt a daring escape from the daycare, which could destroy them all. The pacing of the film is impeccable at this point, although the sense of peril may prove almost too intense for a few young viewers. Pixar's 3-D computer animation is top-notch as always and the voice talent in this film is tremendous, but in the end, it's Pixar's uncanny ability to combine drama, action, and humor in a way that irresistibly draws viewers into the world of the film that makes Toy Story 3 such great family entertainment. (Ages 7 and older) --Tami Horiuchi