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Originally published June 17, 2010 at 12:15 AM | Page modified June 17, 2010 at 3:23 PM

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Movie review

'Toy Story 3': Beloved characters come out to play

Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of Pixar's beloved gang gather for the third installment of the "Toy Story" franchise. To Pixar's credit, the movie charms, even while it trods familiar ground. A review by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Toy Story 3,' with the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris. Directed by Lee Unkrich, from a screenplay by Michael Arndt. 98 minutes, plus the four-minute short film "Night & Day." Rated G. Several theaters, including many screens in 3D.

The "Toy Story" movies successfully mix humor with poignant sadness; somehow, those clever folk at Pixar have learned to make us care — even shed a tear — about the fate of toys that aren't played with. "Toy Story 3," a pleasant and skilled if not entirely necessary sequel, continues in that vein, taking things a step further: Andy, the beloved child-owner of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie and the gang, is grown up and heading off to college. Will the toys end up in the trash, in the attic, or in a donation box?

That even grown-up viewers feel invested in the toys' ultimate destination is indicative of the affection held for this franchise; that a third movie in a sequence can still offer charm and delight is the cherry on the sundae — or, shall we say, the hat on the cowboy doll.

"Toy Story 3" isn't quite at the level of the first two; there are a few scary sequences, particularly one near the end at a city-dump inferno, that seem a bit much for a movie aimed at very young children, and while an extended bit in which Buzz speaks Spanish (someone's accidentally flipped a switch) is very funny, it'll be mystifying for kids not old enough to read subtitles quickly.

But the charming details of the toys' world are here, filled with new twists. The gang (all but Woody, initially) are accidentally donated to a day-care center, which at first seems idyllic. ("No owners means no heartbreak," the bear-in-charge tells them). They're quickly relegated, however, to the Caterpillar Room, where they become "toddler fodder," attacked by aggressive tots too young for calm play. A "Great Escape"-like breakout is planned, with a sweetly touching happy ending eventually reached for all.

It's nicely rendered in 3D, which subtly enhances the experience but isn't essential to it. This is, as with all Pixar films — from the first, genre-defining "Toy Story" in 1995 — ultimately about story and character. We re-meet familiar faces — Tom Hanks' noble Woody, Tim Allen's steadfast Buzz ("Our mission with Andy is complete," he says sadly), Joan Cusack's spirited Jessie, John Ratzenberger's sardonic Hamm — and say hello to some new ones: a disco-boy Ken, a battered Fisher-Price phone, a stuffed unicorn who, welcoming Woody to the home of an imaginative little girl, says, "We do a lot of improv here."

And nice messages for kids abound, from the importance of loyalty and courage to strictly practical matters (when Woody, escaping the day care via the bathroom, needs to climb a toilet, he carefully puts paper down first). "Toy Story 3" feels like a playdate with good friends — for any age.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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