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Toy Story 3,” Pixar’s latest effort that revisits Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang who put Pixar on the map back in 1995, makes one wonder whether there is anything Pixar cannot do – just as nearly every other of the animation studio’s films has done.

Andy, the toys’ worshipped owner, is 17 now and heading off to college in a few days. His plastic and plush friends have been relegated to the trunk for years now, but with Andy’s mom pushing him to clean out his room before he leaves (and his younger sister ready to claim his bedroom the second he pulls out of the driveway), the toys’ fate is in limbo. If they get tossed in the attic, they will likely never be played with again, but with spare parts and extra batteries, they can at least survive up there, and it is still home. The toys’ worst fear is ending up at the city dump.

After some heroic manipulation by Woody, their fearless leader (once again gleefully voiced by Tom Hanks), the gang barely escapes the garbage truck and is instead dropped off at a daycare center. At first, this seems like the best possible fate – plenty of spare parts and superglue, daily play and no owners to break their hearts again.  Ever loyal, Woody is having none of their new digs. He belongs to Andy (his name is written on the bottom of his boot, for gosh sakes) and he must get back to him. This time, Buzz (Tim Allen), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Jessie (Joan Cusack), newcomer Barbie (Jodi Benson) and the others refuse to follow. If they cannot be with Andy, the daycare is the next best thing.

Yet things at the daycare are not as pastel as they seem. There is a hierarchy enforced by Lotso, a strawberry-perfumed bear (Ned Beatty), and his minions, who include a cymbal-clapping monkey, a rubber octopus and a creepy Big Baby enforcer with a broken eyelid and marker squiggles that resemble bad prison tattoos. The newcomers are relegated to the Caterpillar Room, where rambunctious toddlers converge to abuse the toys rather than play with them. Andy’s crew suddenly find themselves imprisoned in a “place of ruin and despair.” 

Animated or otherwise, movie franchises rarely have anything fresh to offer by the third installment. They are usually just obvious attempts by the studios to milk every last dollar out of something that worked the first time.

 “Toy Story 3” is different. The filmmakers seamlessly blend laughter, action and drama without any one taking the lead for too long.

The “Great Escape”-inspired breakout is thrilling. Laughs abound (in a particularly imaginative scene, the degenerate toys play roulette with a See N’ Say and Monopoly money deep in the bowels of a vending machine). The new characters add to the fun, especially an always-in-character hedgehog (Timothy Dalton) and a vain Ken doll (Michael Keaton) who adores his wardrobe and is in denial about being a girls’ toy.

What pushes “Toy Story 3” into the sublime is that underneath all of the action and humor is a layer of touching humanity:  Friends and family are what matter in life. Life changes, not always for the best, but with the changes come new opportunities. Mortality is frightening, but it can also invigorate.

Seeing the 3-D version added little to the experience.  Save the extra few dollars; the wonder of “Toy Story 3” is hardly in the technology.

1hr 49min. Rated G.