Pixar’s 1995 Toy Story and its superlative 1999 sequel ushered in the supremacy of computer-generated animation. So it’s only fitting that, in the midst of cinema’s latest 3-D revolution—and ahead of next summer’s Toy Story 3, conceived with the ubiquitous, glasses-required technology in mind—John Lasseter would retrofit his groundbreaking duo with the spiffiest of hi-tech duds. Lo and behold, the in-your-face treatment suits the sarcastic cowboy doll Woody, delusional action figure Buzz Lightyear and their magically alive plastic plaything friends smashingly, lending an even greater vibrancy, depth and verve to their exquisitely crafted adventures.
Still, a fresh coat of aesthetic razzle-dazzle doesn’t alter the fact that this double feature achieves greatness less from its once-cutting-edge toon wizardry than through surprisingly soulful storytelling. In both films, rollicking action and witty banter—the latter immeasurably aided by a first-rate voice cast headlined by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen—embellish tales that examine issues of friendship, loyalty and the ways in which we derive meaning from our lives. Whether in two dimensions or three, Lasseter’s playroom sagas tackle universal notions of self and community with bountiful wisdom. Their real magic trick is that they’re not “toy” stories, but fundamentally human ones.