The ability to connect with children and grownups at the same time has been a keystone of all of Pixar Animation Studios' movies, but especially the "Toy Story" series.
For kids, the "Toy Story" series opens up a magical world in which toys can walk and talk. Kids delight in watching toys such as Woody, Buzz Lightyear and their gang exhibit many of the same qualities as people, as they reveal distinct personalities, desires and fears, egotism and selflessness. The movies also teach the importance of friendship, loyalty and compassion.
"Toy Story 3," rated G, features the same vocal cast for "TS3," including Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger). Also out this week is the "Ultimate Toy Box 3-Movie Collection," packaging all three "Toy Story" movies on Blu-ray, DVD and digital, for $100.
As with its predecessors, "Toy Story 3" touches viewers of all ages with its poignant depiction of the sadness of abandoned toys. Faced with their kid, Andy, growing up - he's now nearly 18 and about to go off to college - all of his toys realize their "lives" also are about to change. They will soon be transported to either 1) the attic, viewed as a decent, if a bit sad, alternative, since at least the toy family can stay together and retain the possibility Andy will have his own kids play with them in the future; 2) the trash, seen as the worst choice, where they would be picked up by garbage collectors and taken to the city dump, or 3) a nearby day-care center, an alternative that sounds positive (the idea of finding lots of new kids who would play with them) but also a bit scary and mysterious. The only exception is cowboy Woody, still Andy's favorite, who Andy plans to take with him to college.
After Woody helps Andy's toys, now joined by Barbie (Jodi Benson), who has been discarded by Andy's sister Molly, escape from a trash heap, where they had been mistakenly placed by Andy's mom, they arrive at Sunnyside Day Care. It at first seems just as they had hoped - a happy place with many new kids. And they're greeted warmly by the toys already living there, including the swinging bachelor Ken (Michael Keaton), who immediately hooks up with lost love Barbie, and the seemingly benevolent elder statesman, Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty). But soon, Andy's toys come to understand the dark reality of the day-care center.
"Toy Story 3" is an impressive work - technologically amazing, emotionally compelling, even suspenseful. It demonstrates the continually evolving genius of the Pixar animators. And the bonus features on the various home video editions also have much to offer - to both kids and adults.
All editions include these kid-pleasing features: a closer look at the new and old toys and the returning and new vocal talent featured in the movie, and an informative video documentary, made in conjunction with NASA, in which Buzz Lightyear visits the International Space Station. The Blu-ray editions add a "Toy Story Trivia Dash" contest.
Some of the bonus features on Blu-ray are particularly informative and adult-friendly. Two audio commentaries are included, a "Cine-Explore" feature with director Lee Unkrich and Producer Darla K. Anderson, which includes frequent pop-ups to illustrate various points they are discussing, and another with various animators and designers. There are special documentaries showing how four particular scenes were brought to life, a look at how the "Toy Story" movies inspired the manufacturing of new toys based on their "fictional" characters, and much more.
One final thought on the "Toy Story" series: Isn't it a bit ironic that these movies about the joy of kids playing imaginatively and freely with their toys are now all on home video, where they will be watched by kids sitting passively in front of their TV screens?
'Toy Story 3'
Rated G; DVD, $29.99; Blu-ray, $39.99; Blu-ray Combo Pack, $45.99
(Pixar/Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)