GENRE: CGI family heart-warmer
THE PITCH: With their owner Andy departing for college, Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) and the other playthings consider a less lonely future at a bumptious day care center, only to discover that a sinister teddy bear (Ned Beatty) rules it like a prison warden. Can Woody (Tom Hanks) rescue his friends from the attic, the day care center and the dump?
MONEY SHOTS: The opening sequence revisits the playtime heroics of the first two films (including "Death by Monkeys") with all the spectacle that 3-D computer graphics can muster. Toy Story 2's puppy Buster has a hilarious walk-on. The toys' excitement at being "played with" turns to horror when enthusiastic toddlers mistreat them. Mr. Potato Head attaches his parts to a two-dimensional food item during an escape attempt. The gang makes a kind of terrifying venture into an incinerator.
CREATIVE VOICE CASTING: All your favorites are back, even John Morris in his third outing as Andy and, in the subtlest of cameos, Erik von Detten as the maniacal young Sid from the first film. Blake Clark replaces the late Jim Varney as Slinky Dog. Pixar animators providing voice work include Bud Luckey (who also voiced the Jackalope in his short "Boundin'") and Teddy Newton (who helms Pixar's new short). Welcome newcomers include Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin and Kristen Schaal.
BEST LINE: "Those guys from the Christmas decoration box — they're fun, right?" says Woody, trying to put a brave face on the toys' possible destiny in the attic.
STINKIEST LINE: "That wasn't me, was it?" Buzz Lightyear asks upon awakening in a garbage truck. Pixar kicks the raunchy humor up — or is that down? — a notch from the previous Toy Story films.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Most of the jokes about Barbie (Jodi Benson) and Ken (newcomer Michael Keaton) hang on their wardrobes: "Like your legwarmers." "Nice ascot." Ken's fashions include karate pajamas, Mission to Mars space suit and a Nehru jacket. Actually, the clothing gags start to wear thin after a while. (No pun intended.)
POP REFERENCES: The "Spend a night in the box" punishment directly cites Paul Newman's prison drama Cool Hand Luke. The title character of the classic anime My Neighbor Totoro has a supporting role as a plush toy.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: The Gypsy Kings provide a muy caliente cover of Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend In Me."
EXTRAS: Teddy Newton's new short "Day & Night" makes a lovely throwback to 1950s-style cartooning that brilliantly uses (and may have been inspired by) the depth-of-field possibilities of 3-D. Like in Cars, amusing "epilogue" scenes accompany about half of the closing credits, but there's no little "tag" afterward.
SCENE-STEALERS: Amid all the snappy talkers, two dialogue-free characters — Big Baby and the Monkey — may become the film's breakout stars.
BETTER THAN THE OTHERS? It's not as tight as its ingenious predecessors and has the occasional slack moment. It's still of a piece with the style and tone of the others, making the Toy Story trilogy the most internally consistent and satisfying film threesome since The Lord of the Rings. (Admittedly, the ending feels as drawn out as The Return of the King's, though.)
THE BOTTOM LINE: Director Lee Unkrich takes the reins from John Lasseter for a film that features all the laughs — and more importantly, all the emotional complexity — we expect from Pixar. The toy-owner relationship becomes a rich metaphor for loyalty and betrayal in relationships and the need to move on when they've run their course. Woody's jealousy of Buzz in first Toy Story seems like, well, child's play next to this one.