The only major mainstream theatrical release coming to home video this week is Pixar’s latest. And, like most film’s from the animation giant, it’s a gem.
Toy Story 3
4 stars (out of four)
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
As a rule, sequels pale in comparison to their predecessors, but the folks at Pixar Animation Studios are experts at breaking the rules. Case in point: The original “Toy Story” is one of the greatest animated films of all time but “Toy Story 2,” and now “Toy Story 3,” are just as good.
People may not appreciate what a feat the Pixar folks, led by director Lee Unkrich, have accomplished until they think about how few franchises have produced three great back-to-back films.
“The Godfather”? Good series but things fall off at Part III.
Harry Potter? Yeah, but there’s inconsistency in quality.
The quality of the “Toy Story” franchise most closely mirrors director Peter Jackson’s awe-inspiring “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and that puts it in mighty good company.
Toward the beginning of “Toy Story 3,” viewers learn that life isn’t what it used to be for Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys populating the movie’s universe. That’s primarily because their owner, Andy, has grown up and doesn’t play with them the way he used to. Making things worse, he’s heading to college, meaning most of the toys will be relegated to the attic … or worse.
These are dark days for our heroes until, through an unexpected series of events, they find themselves deposited at a daycare. At first, this new setting, with its unlimited supply of children, seems like utopia. But this daycare has a dark side.
The plotting is phenomenal, and the animation is everything viewers have come to expect from Pixar. Also, the excellent voice cast is back. That means we get more entertaining work from Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz and Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head. There are also a number of new characters, including the great Ned Beatty as a fuzzy pink teddy bear named Lotso and Michael Keaton as a Ken doll.
It’s a nice collection of talent, and Unkrich uses it so well that fans should be enthralled. Bottom line: “Toy Story 3” is one of the best films released into theaters this year.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, and extra features vary. That said, all versions include an animated short called “Day & Night,” a feature on the voice talent and a series of anecdotes about life at Pixar.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“The Pacific”: This beautifully produced World War II drama is one of the most noteworthy TV-to-DVD releases coming out this year. Executive produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman – the same team that brought us “Band of Brothers” – the 10-part miniseries focuses on several Marines as they make their way through the Pacific theater of war. The series is already much heralded, as it won eight Emmy Awards, including outstanding miniseries, after airing on HBO. On home video, it’s available on both Blu-ray and DVD, with extras that include a making-of feature, profiles of the real-life Marines represented in the series and a historic piece about the Pacific theater. If you’re looking to buy an early Christmas present for the war film lover on your list, this could be the ticket. James Badge Dale, Joe Mazzello and Jon Seda star.
“Centurion”: Historical drama focused on a Roman centurion named Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) who is marching with the Ninth Legion toward Scotland. When the group is ambushed and its general (Dominic West) is taken captive, Quintas struggles to keep himself and the remaining Roman soldiers alive behind enemy lines. Written and directed by Neil Marshall (“The Descent,” “Doomsday”).
“The Larry Sanders Show” – The Complete Series: Impressive seventeen-DVD set including every episode of Garry Shandling’s comedy about the backstage happenings at a late-night talk show. Shandling, who created the Emmy-winning show with Dennis Klein, stars alongside Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor.
“Nip/Tuck” – The Complete Series: All 100 episodes of the medical drama that ran for six seasons on FX. The show focuses on Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), talented plastic surgeons who change the physical appearances of their clients while trying to hold their personal and professional lives together.
Bing Crosby musicals: This week brings two major releases for fans of the beloved crooner. First, the holiday classic “White Christmas” is making its way to Blu-ray for the first time. The film features music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. For folks who haven’t yet converted to Blu-ray, “White Christmas” is also getting a new two-DVD treatment. Also out this week is The Bing Crosby Collection, a six-movie set that’s part of Universal’s Backlot Series. That release includes the Crosby films “College Humor” (1933), “We’re Not Dressing” (1934), “Here Is My Heart” (1934), “Mississippi” (1935), “Sing You Sinners” (1938) and “Welcome Stranger” (1947).
“Sound of Music” – 45th Anniversary Edition: The classic musical starring Julie Andrews as a young woman who leaves a convent to become governess to seven children is available for the first time on Blu-ray. This release features a newly remastered, 7.1 channel soundtrack, and the film can be purchased in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack or as part of a limited edition gift set.
Roger Corman films: Shout! Factory is delivering two more entries to its Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series. First up is the 1988 science-fiction film “Not of This Earth” starring Traci Lords. Also available is a double-feature disc collecting “The Terror Within” (1989) and “Dead Space” (1991).
“Highlander” and “Highlander 2”: The first two “Highlander” movies – about immortal warrior Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) – are out on Blu-ray for the first time. Both films were directed by Russell Mulcahy. Sean Connery also stars.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.