Even if you don't have children, don't miss the latest episode in the story of Woody and Buzz Lightyear, says Oliver Good.
Toy Story 3: toys to men
Sequels aren't exactly synonymous with imaginative reach and emotional fulfilment, but don't worry, this is Pixar, so the normal rules do not apply. Toy Story 3 comes 11 years after the last episode and 15 since the cowboy doll Woody and his space ranger buddy Buzz Lightyear introduced digital animation to moviegoers. In that time, the Pixar studio has enjoyed an unprecedented and unblemished run of success, producing blockbuster family movies that have proved as popular with film critics as with kids of all ages. After opening with an action sequence that seems to be exactly the kind of anything goes, logic defying caper that Pixar definitively does not do (an explanation is soon forthcoming) the film soon settles into an anxious, melancholy mood. Andy, the little boy from the first movie, is all grown up and moving on to college. Where does that leave Woody and co? That's what they want to know. Andy bags them up for the attic, but his mum mistakenly assumes they're earmarked for donation to Sunnyside, the local children's daycare centre. Woody, who was supposed to be heading off to school with Andy, tries to rally them for the hike home, but his friends are not so sure. All-day play seems like a good idea: new kids, new surroundings; a new lease of life. However, they discover too late that Sunnyside has a dark side. A pastel-coloured gulag presided over by a strawberry-smelling pink teddy bear named Lotso (voiced by the avuncular Ned Beatty), it confines new arrivals to the toddler room, a gladiatorial arena from which few emerge unscathed. It's at this point that the slow-burning story heats up. Loveable, huggable Lotso makes a terrifically malignant bad guy, a tin-pot dictator whose loathsome lackeys include a baby with a beady eye and a head capable of 360 degree rotations right out of The Exorcist; a scary cymbal-clanging monkey who doubles as an alarm system; and - yuck! - a Ken doll (Michael Keaton) who takes an immediate shine to Barbie. These new characters give the movie a welcome shot of adrenaline, and present Buzz and co with their most formidable adversaries yet. Director Lee Unkrich (who co-directed Toy Story 2) fashions a brilliantly inventive and surprisingly suspenseful escape movie from these pre-school components, funnelling the series's abiding separation anxiety into a succession of ingenious feints and evasions, climaxing in vision of a gaping inferno. Younger kids may find this more than a little scary, as might their parents. After all, we're the ones who are left behind when the kids leave home, abandoned and suddenly redundant, with no one to take to see the latest Pixar movie. Even if you don't have a child with you, Toy Story 3 is simply too good to miss - it's funny, exciting, and sentimental in the best way: alert to the impermanence of things and appreciative of the bonds that common apprehension forges in friendship and solidarity.