With all the charm and wit of its predecessors, Toy Story 3 is pretty close to the perfect animated film.
Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger
It is 15 years since Pixar's Toy Story - the first full-length CGI feature - hit cinema screens and entered our hearts for ever. In Woody, the hand-stitched cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks, we had a loyal and trusting friend and perhaps one of the most captivating movie characters of all time (real or computerised). In Woody and the lovably obnoxious new-fangled toy spaceman Buzz Lightyear (brought to life by Tim Allen), Pixar presented us with a truly great screen double act.
The follow up, in 1999, was another huge success, and Pixar has become one of the most commercial and critically acclaimed studios in history, extending its run of luck on the third - and what appears to be final - part in the Toy Story saga. In this instalment, having done battle with sadistic delinquents and mercenary entrepreneurs over the years, Woody, Buzz and co face their toughest enemy yet: time. Andy, their beloved owner, is now a gangly 17-year-old, on the cusp of adulthood and ready to leave home to start a new life at college.
His once constant companions, having been left to gather dust in his old toy box, face the question of whether to remain loyal or to seek pastures new when an unfortunate incident sees them wind up in a day-care centre called Sunnyside. There is little to fault in the concluding part of the saga, despite the bittersweet undertone, for heartbreaking though it is to witness the changes in Andy and Woody's relationship, the Pixar wit of old is still a driving force of the film. From Buster's hilarious cameo near the beginning, all the way to the Frankenstein-esque scene involving Mr Potato Head, the level of humour is just right. Another excellent addition to the cast is the Ken doll, voiced by Michael Keaton, who provides many of the laughs.
The film is also packed with warm little touches. There is not one sequence or image that doesn't have a story to tell, whether it's the final shot of the clouds - reminiscent of the opening scene in the first film - all the way to the fact that the last scenes featuring Woody were created by the same animator who worked on the cowboy's debut scenes in the first Toy Story.
The film is preceded by a Pixar short, Day and Night, something that has become an affectionate trademark of the studio since Geri's Game was shown as a prelude to A Bug's Life in 1998. Since its first short in 1984, The Adventures of André and Wally B, Pixar has created 18 other mini-masterpieces, picking up nine Oscar nods and three wins for Best Animated Short Film along the way. The latest - the directorial debut for the longtime Pixar collaborator Teddy Newton - is perhaps the studio's most innovative to date, in terms of both animation and plot. Set against a black background, Newton's vision sees Day and Night as 2D characters projecting 3D scenes relating to the time of day each represents.
Perhaps an indicator of the feature film, this is also one of Pixar's most poignant and morally fibrous animations. Initially wary of one another, Night and Day soon set aside their differences, each taking advantage of what the other has to offer. The real pay-off, however, comes when they chance upon a lecture being delivered via the transmission mast of a secluded radio shack. Excerpts from an actual talk, delivered by the American author and public speaker Wayne Dyer in the 1970s, its message of tolerance and appreciation of the unknown speaks volumes to the two.
While the other DVD extras - including director and producer commentary and a short film in which Buzz explains space travel to the other toys - are slightly lacklustre, it's a measure of the excellence of Toy Story 3 that its transition to the small screen does not diminish its appeal. This is as close to the perfect animated movie as you're likely to see.