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Toys meet world: Third installment of 'Toy Story' franchise practically perfect in every way

From left, Bullseye, Mr. Potato Head, Mrs. Potato Head, Jessie, Hamm, Barbie, Woody, Rex, Slinky Dog, Buzz Lightyear, Aliens 

From left, Bullseye, Mr. Potato Head, Mrs. Potato Head, Jessie, Hamm, Barbie, Woody, Rex, Slinky Dog, Buzz Lightyear, Aliens 

Toy Story 3 (G)

4 stars out of 4

If a studio gets lucky with a franchise, it’ll make an exceptional original and a worthy follow-up. This has been done with relative regularity for quite a while. If they crank out two decent sequels (“The Godfather,” the “Jason Bourne” collection, Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns), they’re blessed. Until today no studio has been fortunate enough to achieve franchise perfection with three movies.

To be clear, the definition of “perfection” here is a franchise that has an extremely high level of quality throughout while also making a bunch of money. To clarify further, “The Lord of the Rings” and the two sets of “Star Wars” movies don’t fit the definition of the original-sequel franchise. Those were planned trilogies — and that is a big difference.

Given the supremacy of the first two “Toy Story” movies (and the near-perfect track record of Pixar Studios in general), the brilliance of “TS3” doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Gently pressured by distributor Disney to deliver this film nearly a decade ago, Pixar demurred, took its sweet time and everyone is the better for it. “TS3” could quite possibly be the finest of the lot and thus far is the best movie of 2010.

Some might not notice, but the movie picks up in real time where “TS2” left off. The incidental human character and owner of the toys (Andy) is now 17 and a day away from leaving for college. Nudged by his mom into clearing out his room before departing, Andy decides to take one toy with him and puts the others in storage. A foul-up worthy of any classic live-action farce results in all of the toys landing at a day care center where they will be played with on a daily basis and not left dormant in a dark trunk.

The change in locale appears to be initially rejuvenating. The long-established resident toys warmly welcome the new arrivals and soften the blow of being tossed to the wayside by Andy. Able to stand back and realize what’s really going on, Woody (Tom Hanks) implores his friends to take heed, but it all falls on deaf ears.

As with the first sequel, the filmmakers introduce a handful of new characters and each makes an indelible impression. There’s a wise-guy informant telephone, an oversized enforcer baby, a twitchy, paranoid monkey, the resigned, world-weary clown, an avuncular, strawberry-scented teddy bear and — stealing the show at every turn — the shallow, self-absorbed narcissist Ken (Michael Keaton), as in “Barbie and Ken.”

Always able to appeal equally to adults and children, “TS3” begins showing noticeable favoritism to the former group less than halfway through when it morphs from cutesy, bouncy comedy into full blown, jail-break action/thriller along the lines of “The Great Escape” or “Papillion.” With or without intent (most likely with), “TS3” is a de facto Steve McQueen movie.

For those adults out there (and you know who you are) who regularly and mistakenly label animated feature films as “cartoons,” please take note: this is a grown-up movie. Children will get all of it (well, maybe not the brief subtitled Spanish passages) and they will love it to pieces. Trust your children — they know more than you think they do — and deep down, you either want to prove this review wrong or secretly wish to confirm what it feels like to be a kid again.

Parents complain all the time about Hollywood not making movies that the entire family can enjoy and most of the time they are right. The recent “Furry Vengeance” and “Marmaduke” are perfect examples of Hollywood at its lamest, unimaginative and offensive. “TS3” is pure, unadulterated magic and moviemaking at its most inspired and sublime. Take excellence while you can get it. (Pixar/Disney)