When teenaged Andy plops down on the grass to share his old toys with a shy little girl, the film spikes with sadness and layered pleasure -- a concise, deeply wise expression of the ephemeral that feels real and yet utterly transporting.
Toy Story 3 succeeds not because of its glossy and gleaming high-tech pixels, but rather because it is so well-written that you could tell it with low-tech hand puppets and still thrill and reach an audience of children and adults both.
Toy Story 3 rouses itself, rung by rung of visual and conceptual invention, until it can stand close to the level of Pixar's best. More than that: The heart still beats in this franchise's digital chest.
This film -- this whole three-part, 15-year epic -- about the adventures of a bunch of silly plastic junk turns out also to be a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence and that noble, stubborn, foolish thing called love.
The film never lets banter, visual gags, or the usual manic kid-flick running about interfere with its more delicately handled thoughts on loyalty, longing, broken relationships, and generational continuity.
More than with any other Pixar film, there's an edge and sadness that clings to Toy Story 3, even as it's bouncing from one zany situation to the next or trotting out some impossibly cute toy character.
That even grown-up viewers feel invested in the toys' ultimate destination is indicative of the affection held for this franchise; that a third movie in a sequence can still offer charm and delight is the cherry on the sundae.
Clearly, Pixar's genius for adventurous storytelling continues unabated; a prison film would seem to be the furthest idea from safe, but the tale poses a serious challenge to the old saw of terrible second sequels.