(Scripps Howard News Service) - The ability to connect with children and grown-ups at the same time has been a keystone of all of Pixar Animation Studios' movies, but especially the "Toy Story" series. The original "Toy Story," from 1995, was the studio's first animated feature, and this year's "Toy Story 3" has become the No. 1 animated film in box-office history. ("Toy Story 2," from 1999, was no slouch, either, outperforming the original at the box office despite its origins as a 60-minute direct-to-video film.)
For kids, the "Toy Story" series opens up a magical world in which toys can walk and talk. Kids delight in watching toys like Woody, Buzz Lightyear and their gang exhibit many of the same qualities as people, as they reveal distinct personalities, desires and fears, egotism and selflessness. The movies also teach the importance of friendship, loyalty and compassion.
Older viewers -- a group that now includes those who were children when the first "Toy Story" was released, but are now 15 years older -- experience the same delights as kids, but we add our own memories of the attachment we once felt for the toys of our childhood. Perhaps even more than kids, we can relate to the sadness the toys in the movies experience when they are neglected by the kids who used to play with them and find themselves relegated to dark toy chests. Furthermore, the "Toy Story" movies remind us of our own loss of innocence, of a bygone era before kids were over-scheduled and their playtime activities organized by adults, of a time when "free play" meant the freedom to engage in unregimented play.
"Toy Story 3," rated G, is being released on home video this week by Pixar and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment in three formats -- a Blu-ray Combo Pack (two Blu-ray discs, a regular DVD and a digital copy; $45.99), a two-disc Blu-ray edition ($39.99) and a regular DVD ($29.99). The same vocal cast returns for "TS3," including Tom Hanks (Woody), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger). Also out this week is the "Ultimate Toy Box 3-Movie Collection," packaging all three "Toy Story" movies on Blu-ray, DVD and digital, for $100.
Like its predecessors, "Toy Story 3" touches viewers of all ages with its poignant depiction of the sadness of abandoned toys. Faced with their kid, Andy, growing up -- he's now nearly 18 and about to go off to college -- his toys realize that their "lives" are also about to change. The only exception is cowboy Woody, still Andy's favorite. The youth plans to take him to college.
"Toy Story 3" is an impressive work -- technologically amazing, emotionally compelling, even suspenseful. It demonstrates the continually evolving genius of the Pixar animators. And the bonus features on the various home-video editions also have much to offer -- to both kids and adults.
All editions include these kid-pleasing features: a closer look at the new and old toys and the returning and new vocal talent featured in the movie, and an informative video documentary, made in conjunction with NASA, in which Buzz Lightyear visits the International Space Station. The Blu-ray editions add a "Toy Story Trivia Dash," a contest in which kids who are both knowledgeable about the three movies and have decent dexterity with their remotes will do far better than this writer.
Some of the bonus features on Blu-ray are particularly informative and adult-friendly. Two audio commentaries are included: a "Cine-Explore" feature with director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson, which includes frequent pop-ups to illustrate various points they are discussing; and another with various animators and designers. There are special documentaries showing how four particular scenes were brought to life, a look at how the "Toy Story" movies inspired the manufacturing of new toys based on the characters, and much more.
One final thought on the "Toy Story" series: Isn't it a bit ironic that these movies about the joy of kids playing imaginatively and freely with their toys are now all on home video, where they will be watched by kids sitting passively in front of TV screens?
(Contact Bruce Dancis at brucedancis(at)comcast.net.)
Copyright (c) 2010 Scripps Howard News Service
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