After the sublime wonder of Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 has been eagerly awaited with a mix of excitement and trepidation in our household. With two sons who have grown up thinking of Woody, Buzz and the gang as close personal friends, we were all eager to spend time with Andy’s intrepid toys again….

But could this really be as much fun as their last two adventures or (mission impossible alert, folks) actually top them?

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It was a tall order. Kids these days are no fools and given the diminishing returns of franchises such as Shrek, Spy Kids and Pirates of the Caribbean, they’re on to filmmakers who choose to jump on their own bandwagon. Plus, while Pixar have built up a lot of good will with their refusal to make assembly-line movies, we were all wondering what more there could possibly be to say about a bunch of toys who come to life when no one’s looking?

Um, turns out quite a lot actually.

Yup, the perfectionists at Pixar have done it again. The only predictable thing about Toy Story 3 is it’s name – and after watching this beautifully crafted tale one can’t help wondering if that generic title was supposed to be ironic.

My boys, one of whom is now the same age as the college-bound Andy, came out of the cinema declaring it one of the best films ever made! Forget twelve-year-old bravado, forget the jaded cynicism of today’s teens. For one glorious minute… Or 108 of them to be exact (including the delicious short Night & Day)… They were wide-eyed, wonderstruck children again. And their mum wasn’t far behind!

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot, because that will spoil all the fabulous surprises this movie has in store for you..

But, without giving too much away, Andy is now 17 and headed for college. Woody and Buzz and the gang have seen their numbers dwindle to all but a few, until their forlorn little band spend their days lanquishing in the toy box and devising schemes to trick Andy into playing with them again, so they can relive their glory days when they were the centre of Andy’s existence.

But Andy’s not interested in them anymore, and while the ever faithful and doggedly optomistic Woody insists they must always be there for Andy, the other toys have realised that a journey to the terrifying undiscovered world of Sunnyside Daycare might actually be better than the prospect of spending the rest of their days in a darkened attic or, worse yet, a quick trip to the dump…

Thus begins an adventure that will test the toys’ loyalty to the limit — not just to Andy but also to each other — and challenge everything they have ever known or understood about themselves and their existence. Sounds deep doesn’t it? Well actually it is…

Because behind the facade of this sweet, shiny, funny movie is a poignant tale which has big things to say about friendship and growing up, and second chances and the destruction of the human spirit (well, toy spirit anyway!).

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All right, enough with the deep and meaningful stuff… Because let’s not forget this is also crowdpleasing entertainment. As well as the stellar returning voice cast of Hanks and Allen, et al, there’s also Timothy Dalton’s Shakespearean hedgehog Mr Pricklepants, Micheal Keaton’s smarmy, conflicted Ken doll (“Stop calling me a girl’s toy”) and Ned Beatty’s larger-than-life Lotso Huggin’ Bear.

There’s a chilling pastiche of Cool Hand Luke, a nail-biting prison break  worthy of The Great Escape, the side-splitting discovery of Buzz’s Spanish-language button and a show-stopping, heart-wrenching, all action finale that has been said to make grown men cry (and certainly made this grown woman choke back a sob or two).

Maybe this isn’t the best movie ever made, but it’s certainly movie-making at its best with all of Pixar’s marvellous attention to detail — not just in terms of its state-of the art CGI animation but also in terms of those more traditional but often sadly neglected talents such as narrative structure and character development.

It’s official. Pixar rules!

Toy Story 3 hits cinemas on Monday 19th July.

[swf]http://uk.player.filmtrailer.com/v3.1/&mid=2415&channel_user_id=441100180-1&repeat=1&volume=0[/swf]

To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.