Toy Story 3: Can This Series Just Keep Going Forever? Please?

In Hollywood, a slightly sluggish summer has executives questioning their safe moneymaking strategy of sequels, remakes and more sequels and looking for more original fare. Of course, that didn't stop them from greenlighting a sequel to a remake this week, nor will it stop them from rejoicing when Toy Story 3 makes a boatload of money this weekend. And rejoice they should. Because the new Toy Story, with a newly promoted director and the screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine at the wheel, is as enjoyable and moving as the first two, and I, for one, would be perfectly happy if Pixar made nothing but Toy Story movies from here on out.

After an amazing opening fantasy sequence, the new film jumps ahead ten years, and Andy (the owner of Woody, Buzz, Jesse and the rest) is now 17 and graduating from high school. He never plays with his toys anymore, and they have to resort to trickery in order to even get him to open the toy chest. When a room-cleaning mishap leads all of the toys but Woody to be left on the curb as trash, they all decide to pack up shop and get donated to the local preschool instead. The school's old toys seem nice at first, but then the newcomers find out that not all preschoolers are good to their toys, and the old-timers have their own ideas about who gets to play with which kids -- and who gets to leave. It's up to Woody to abandon his quest to return to Andy and rescue his friends, and the end of the film is a series of triumphs and tragedies and showdowns and happy resolutions and new friendships and new beginnings that will make kids cheer and adults who are in touch with their emotions cry.

And did we mention the new characters? After the few new characters we met last episode (Jesse, Bullseye, Stinky Pete), this installment literally needs a roll call, there are so many of them. Ned Beatty plays the leader of the preschool toys, an embittered old teddy bear named Lotso (short for Lots-O'-Huggin'), and he delivers a knock-out performance, as does Michael Keaton as the clothes-loving Ken, who lives in the Dream House and falls for Barbie in a big way. There are also various toys that act as Lotso's muscle (including a Whoopi-voiced octopus), but none of them get much time in the spotlight besides Big Baby, a giant baby doll who speaks entirely in gurgles and coos and resides somewhere between Master Blaster and Michael Myers on the creepiness scale. (Although Pixar eventually teaches us to understand and even love the character.)

We also visit the home of a young girl whose mother works at the school, where we meet a friendly Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), an IM-loving triceratops (Kristen Schaal), a laid-back unicorn (Jeff Garlin), three baby peas-in-a-pod and an erudite hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton). Totoro (from Studio Ghibli's My Neighbor Totoro) also makes an appearance here. And the amazing thing is, in spite of all of these new characters, we still get to spend plenty of time with the franchise's stars throughout the film, and the new characters are all as amazing as the originals. Luckily, the ending indicates that a few of these newbies may have a place as regulars in the ensemble the next time around. Please let there be a next time around -- seriously, I want to spend more time with Mr. Pricklepants.

Also is it just me, or is the animation getting better? The character designs still stay safely far away from being photo-realistic, but the little girl whose house they visit, Bonnie, moves exactly like a girl her age would move and act, as does Andy's elderly dog. It's amazing to think that, as we get to know these characters and as the animation quality increases, this series could continue to get better and better; that's one reason to keep making sequels, right there. Even the 3-D in the film was unobtrusive and merely resulted in a richer viewing experience -- although there are a couple of big, sprawling scenes where you'll be really glad you have it, and it definitely enhances the cartoon short that precedes the film. Titled Day & Night, the short takes a simple concept -- "What if Day met Night?" -- and turns it into something amazing, combining two-dimensional characters with rich 3-D backgrounds, and adding a twist ending and a subtle moral that you might not think possible in a five-minute cartoon. It's so innovative that it might be worth the price of admission on its own. So when you're shelling out 13 bucks per person to go see the movie this weekend, just keep in mind that you're getting your money's worth, twice over... at least.

Think you know Toy Story and other Pixar movies? Try the Pixar trivia challenge.

Did you see Toy Story 3? Tell us what you thought below, then read about other cartoons that made us cry and check out our list of toys we want to see in the next movie!

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