Toy Story 3 continues the high standards — from cutting-edge computer work to smart writing — that has made Pixar Studios the Disney of the 21st century when it comes to animation.
Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen), Woody (Tom Hanks) and the rest of the toys fear for their future as Andy prepares to leave for college. It looks as if they're destined for an eternal resting place in the attic.
An accident sends the toys to a local day care — which seems like a toy's version of paradise because there's no shortage of youngsters who want to play.
What the toys didn't count on was the overly aggressive play of the children. After a day of being beaten, bitten, painted and drooled on, the gang's ready to leave. They can't escape, because of the prisonlike world run by the strawberry-scented bear known as Lotso (Louisville native Ned Beatty). He's part Strother Martin from Cool Hand Luke, part Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Lotso's right-hand man is Ken (Michael Keaton), as in Barbie's boyfriend, whose dual nature as a fashion maven and flunky makes him the breakout toy in the film.
Even if the toys manage a great escape, they face an uncertain future without Andy.
Parents should be aware: Just like its central character, Andy, the Toy Story franchise has grown up. The film is aimed at a slightly older audience.
Toy Story 3 starts with the bright fun of the first two movies, as the toys scamper around the house. It turns dark as the day care becomes a film noir version of prison. (Filmmakers traveled to Alcatraz for inspiration for the scenes.)
Lotso keeps the toys in line through an oversize doll, a plastic answer to Lennie from Of Mice and Men. There were scary moments in the first two films, but Big Baby is the stuff of nightmares.
And the film's conclusion at the city dump is darker than anything before in the series.
The first two films of the franchise were about basic topics: friendship, jealousy, cooperation. Toy Story 3 focuses more on separation, the loss of youthful innocence and the desperate need to belong. All three productions have been first-rate, but this one should resonate louder and deeper with adults than kids.
Couple that with Buzz being switched into a Spanish-language mode, complete with subtitles, and Toy Story 3 isn't as kid-friendly as the previous two movies.
Toy Story 3 also is being released in 3-D, but the effect is so flat that there's no reason to pay extra to see that format. The film is so beautifully shot that it works just as well in 2-D.