New ‘Toy Story 3’ 1st hit of summer

Posted June 25, 2010, at 12:33 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

In theaters

TOY STORY 3, directed by Lee Unkrich, written by Michael Arndt, 98 minutes, rated G.

The new horror movie “Toy Story 3” takes the beloved toys from the previous two films and puts them in a movie in which they no longer are needed by Andy, who is off to college. And so, since he’s moving on, the toys in question are given to a day care center, in which hives of scrambling, snot-nosed, unformed tots tear into them with such unbridled glee, their rampage hinges on something close to blood violence.

Thus, the horror.

Director Lee Unkrich based the movie on Michael Arndt’s script, and what they created with Pixar is one of the summer’s first great movies.

Everyone is back — and then some. There’s Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), who remains Andy’s favorite, as well as Woody’s pals Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles, Estelle Harris), and Barbie (Jodi Benson), who no longer is wanted by Andy’s sister.

New to the show are those toys at the Sunnyside Daycare, and at first glance, they’re a welcoming bunch with broad smiles and big hearts. There’s a big furry bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty), who leads the pack and is a self-proclaimed “hugger,” as well as Ken doll (Michael Keaton), Big Baby (who wanders the facility like Frankenstein’s monster and who has an unfortunate droopy left eye), and scores of others, including a rubber octopus and a grinning monkey complete with cymbals and eyes that see everything.

Which is sort of a problem for Woody and company. After a honeymoon period in which they all believe they struck gold — instead of being tossed out with the trash, they now will be played with and loved by children — it’s quickly revealed that everything isn’t right at Sunnyside Daycare. The place is a nightmare, with its walls so locked down you might as well consider the other toys’ leader, Lotso, a strict warden with an axe to grind. He plans to keep the new toys captive. And what do you want to bet that Woody, Buzz and everyone else is having none of that? Of course, with that comes its share of problems — such as how to get out, which is what a good deal of this movie is about.

“Toy Story 3” also is about leaving behind one’s childhood, the knowledge of doing so, and the heartache and exhilaration that can come from it when a way of life is lost and a new one is found. It’s a movie that highlights abandonment issues for the toys in question, and it’s a movie that emotes all of those complex emotions with such sensitivity, you’re once again left with a groundswell of admiration for the skilled people at Pixar, who have an uncanny way of balancing all of this emotional weight with outrageous moments of comedy and action.

With a superb set of new characters — you’ll never look at Barbie and Ken the same way again — and its clear understanding of human nature, “Toy Story 3” once again proves that toys not only are for kids, but toys, in fact, are us.

Grade: A

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

In anticipation of Wednesday’s release of “Twilight: Eclipse,” below is a brief review of the last film in the franchise, “Twilight: New Moon,” which is recommended only if you need a recap of what came before. Otherwise, skip it.

TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, directed by Chris Weitz, written by Melissa Rosenberg, 130 minutes, rated PG-13.

The story is dumb as hell, but at least its creators were smart enough to know what its audience wants — shirtless boys, chaste kisses and a female character caught between the hotness of two hotties (a werewolf, a vampire) who apparently is willing to throw garlic cloves to the wind to give her soul to the latter.

The young woman in question is Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), whose hormones might as well be boiling beneath a satanic hellfire. We don’t know this because Bella expresses her emotions easily — she’s nearly a mute, poor thing, saying as little as possible — but because when the sparkly vampire, Edward (Robert Pattinson), decides he must remove himself from her life in order to protect her from his kind, she literally writhes in pain and screams in agony.

There to pick up the pieces in Edward’s absence is Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who wants more than a friendship with Bella. Together, they grow close over motorcycles, mutual sidelong glances and his bulging biceps. But here’s the thing — it turns out Jacob has a gene that allows him to morph into a werewolf.

Who knew? He didn’t. And here’s the real issue at hand. Just as with Edward, if the two take the risk of edging toward sexual intimacy, Jacob could potentially harm her if things got out of hand between them. After all, all one has to do is look at the shredded face of one of the wives of Jacob’s werewolf leaders to know how dire having sexy times with a werewolf can be. Doing so might, in fact, cost Bella her life, or at least a disfigurement. And who wants that?

Well, of course, Bella does, though not with Jacob. She wants Edward, who appears to her in ghostly flashes that suggests to her that he’s still pining for her. What unspools from this is another glum film about the perils of teen intimacy that once again finds life hinging on abstinence and morality. While those are fine messages to send out to young audiences, the way it’s played here is so brooding, it’s nearly bloodless.

That is, of course, until the film’s final moments, when real heat emerges in Italy. Just what goes down there, we’ll leave for you, but it says a lot for the movie that the two most interesting characters come at the end — Dakota Fanning rules the screen as a dead vampire zealot with a mean stare, a tight golden bun and a hot clip. And Michael Sheen creates all kinds of chaos as the leader of all vampires. These two are so superior to the juiceless love otherwise served up in the movie that you can’t help wishing they had a movie of their own.

Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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