Toy Story 3
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn
Directed by Lee Unkrich
There are several reasons sequels are released on the tail of their predecessor. One is to capture the same audience. It's been 11 years since Toy Story 2, posing a challenge to Disney and Pixar's latest film: their audience has all but outgrown the franchise.
However, these cinematic giants have risen magnificently to the occasion. Toy Story 3 is funny, action-packed, and unexpectedly poignant, with our favourite characters saving the day - and themselves - once again.
The toys are in trouble. Andy, like his original fans, is all grown up and going to college, at that awkward stage between being a teenager and adulthood. He's torn about whether he wants to keep his childhood toys - Woody (Hanks), Buzz (Allen) and co - who are devastated to have reached the end of their playing days.
Mistakenly, the toys are donated to Sunnyside, the local childcare centre, where they think they have found heaven. They can finally be played with every day! But their loyalties are tested and they soon discover Sunnyside's tyrannical underbelly.
With a near-death experience, Spanish seduction and a jailbreak there's more suspense than sunshine in this sequel. The ending is surprising and sweet, thanks to Hanks, Allen, Cusack and crew bringing the toys to life. Part thriller and part romance (Barbie and Ken are not the only ones...), Toy Story 3 holds its own because it's not just about the toys.
What makes the film resonate is its powerful themes of imagination and the loss of childhood innocence. The significance of breaking with our toys and our past will be lost on young children, but this film isn't directed at them. Toy Story 3 explores the difficult verge of adolescence, when we're caught between age and expectation, and helps us come to terms with it. This is what makes it more than just a kiddie movie.
Pixar has cleverly realised that the animation market is expanding. Cartoons are not longer the forte of children, but also their older siblings and parents. Coraline is one such example of animation for adults. But aiming at a different age group - or, more difficult - simultaneous age groups (which any above-par, timeless movie should hope to do) means stepping up their game in almost every aspect of the movie: plot, dialogue, characters, pace and so on. It's no easy feat to appeal to everyone.
How does Pixar do it in Toy Story 3? By building on their original brilliance with new characteristics, dilemmas and relationships. New characters at the daycare help shake things up, but it's the gang - Jessie (Cusack), Mr and Mrs Potato Head (Rickles and Harris), Hamm (Ratzenberger) and Rex (Shawn) - who keep things lively with their witty repartee, individual quirks and ingenious schemes. And isn't that the sign of a good sequel? Characters who are as familiar as old friends, but who can still reveal something new about themselves.
References anyone 15 plus will enjoy include internet dinosaur dating and Barbie's indignant protest against tyranny: "Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from threat of force!"
Perhaps what makes the story so strong and so captivating is that it is carried by the emotions of these well-rounded characters, who we like and sympathise with. Andy's indecision about his toys is one we all face - at what point do we outgrow our toys (if ever)? Toy Story 3 reassures us: we will always be young at heart.