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"Toy Story 3D" Review

Pixar is the new Disney - the studio name that almost guarantees quality movies. Their films are beloved and are huge money-makers and as a result, they tend to be overpraised by critics and too-stridently defended by fans; a lesson I learned the hard way when I wasn't sufficiently circumspect in my review for Cars, the only truly bad film to come out of the House That Luxo Jr. Built. (Seriously, I could've burned an American flag at Arlington on Memorial Day and gotten less grief than that review brought.) So, it's no surprise to see the third installment of the franchise that launched Pixar into features, Toy Story 3D, rocking a 99% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but what was surprising was how disappointing the film actually is. It's not a failure, but coming after what I consider the best Pixar film of all, Toy Story 2, it was a big letdown.

The story is slight: Andy has grown up and is going to college - a good move since it almost tracks in real time with the 11 years that have passed since the last film - and through misadventure, the toys have ended up at a day care center. While they are at first happy to finally be played with again, it quickly turns into a nightmare as the kids thrash them around and they learn that the seemingly friendly Lots-of-Hugs bear that rules the center is a nasty bit of work. The toys' plan to escape and get back to Andy, even if it means getting stored in the attic, occupies the bulk of the film.

While the story is simple, the plotting is quite complex with plans and maneuvers and as a result, there's very little time to just hang out and enjoy the cast of characters. Everything feels forced and rushed because they've got to move the details along. The new toys introduced aren't given much time beyond Lotso and the choice to depict the Ken doll as a self-absorbed metrosexual (bordering on totally queer) is just laziness. What would've been unique would've been for Ken to be a Jack Bauer-grade badass who is slapping G.I Joe around and complaining that being forced to live in a Dream House with a bunch of poofster disco clothes in the wardrobe insulting to his machismo. That would've been cool; Pixar took the easy way out. Lame.

The last really great Pixar movie was 2004's The Incredibles and everything they've made since - Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up - have had serious flaws in their tone control with some rather heavy emotional material and downright cruelty sneaking in. There has always been threat and menace in Disney and Pixar cartoons, but it's getting out of hand. When the toys - characters we've loved for 15 years - hold hands in preparing for what seems to be certain destruction in an inferno, even though we *know* that they aren't going to die, it's a depressing and fatalistic image that is needlessly mean since we know they'll manage to escape. Just as with the scene in Up when Kevin is trapped in the net, it's too specific, too horrifying, too real for the audience. This isn't Woody getting packed off to Japan to live in a collection.

There are also too many recycled elements like the trash compactors from WALL-E and the conveyor belt chases from Toy Story 2. But if there is one very special thing Toy Story 3D does well it's to show the importance of imagination and playing with REAL toys. Grabbing a doll and creating situations for them is something no video game can deliver and the film's opening sequence and the coda when Andy passes his friends on to another to enjoy really provide a subtle nudge that parents would do better for their kids to buy them the tie-in toys and not the official video game. It's too bad the rest of the movie didn't strive for that sort of depth.

Score: 7/10. Rent the Blu-ray.

The 3D effects are minuscule and not worth the extra money over 2D. The depth of image on the Blu-rays is fine and you aren't missing a thing in 2D.


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