The first installment of Pixar's flagship franchise in 11 years was screened two hours after WW press deadlines (cue horrified screaming from my desk), so we had to wait one more day to bring you the review. It was worth the wait.

Toy Story 3

TOY STORY 3

WW Critic's Score: 89

Let's say that I am an ice cream man, and I make the best ice cream in the whole world. Years ago, I sold you a bowl of ice cream sweeter and more delicious than any you had tasted before—better, really, than what you had imagined ice cream could be—and year after year, I kept on delivering that perfect dessert. Eventually I began mixing in subtler, more complex notes: tart berries and salty pretzels, even little shavings of ginger that made your eyes water. Now, it is possible, after all these years, that I could hand you a bowl of ice cream the equal of anything I'd ever given you, and you could turn up your nose at it, because you've had that ice cream before. You are tired of ice cream. There is a term to describe the inured, benumbed person you have become. That term is an idiot.

Being neither an ice cream man nor an idiot, I can tell you that with Toy Story 3, the Pixar studio has whipped up another delectable concoction. If it is not quite a match for the masterstrokes of WALL-E and Up, it is still one of the few cinematic pleasures I can see paying 3-D prices to savor. (The 3-D, as always, I could take or leave, but it is not intrusive.) The most boring and predictable part of the movie, in fact, is this part here, where viewers emerge raving that it is everything we hoped and expected it would be.

So let's not be boring: You are familiar with Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear? Good. You have noticed that Pixar has been steadily upping the dosage of melancholy and loneliness in its pictures? Thought so. You will be unsurprised to learn that Toy Story 3 opens with themes of abandonment and mortality, as godlike boy Andy prepares to leave for college and the contents of his toybox ready themselves for obsolescence. This forced retirement is the moment the Toy Story series has been building toward for decades—it is the poignancy of The Velveteen Rabbit and "Puff the Magic Dragon," the loss of childhood personified by the sadness of childish things put away. Rex the Dinosaur's head is bent in sorrow.

I felt a passing concern that director Lee Unkrich and his three co-writers would have nowhere to go from there, but I needn't have fretted. No sooner do Woody, Buzz and their charges arrive at Sunnydale Day Care—my nightmare retirement village, populated by maniacally destructive toddlers—than the filmmakers debut a trove of new old wonders, vintage playthings filling every corner of the frame. The best of these is Mr. Lotso Huggin Bear, a lavender plush teddy who "smells like strawberries" and, as ingeniously voiced by Ned Beatty, behaves like a deranged hybrid of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's Big Daddy and the warden from Cool Hand Luke. Toy Story 3 turns out to be a prison-break movie writ miniature (the daycare play structure looms like a guardhouse turret) with each detail affectionately cribbed and repurposed from a 1950s genre picture you half recall. A piggy bank plays a sad harmonica tune behind bars. Rebellious Potato Heads are sentenced to solitary confinement in a sandbox. The cynical lifer talks to Woody by jailhouse telephone. The cynical lifer is a jailhouse telephone.

Pixar's capability with computer animation has evolved markedly since 1999's Toy Story 2. (Woody's face, for example, is far more expressive than previously, and for the first time I noticed that his wide grin seems to be modeled on a young Burt Lancaster.) It is possible that this advance has left the creators a bit antsy: They don't get the wordless showpiece that they had at the openings of WALL-E and Up, and the backstory flashback they give to Mr. Lotso Huggin Bear (delivered, hilariously, by a very sad clown named Chuckles) verges on overcompensation. It is among the darkest, most disturbing notes the studio has yet sounded, and sensitive children—along with sensitive film critics—may feel that Lotso's tragedy bothers them even after the happier fates of Toy Story 3's central characters are resolved.

But even this caveat testifies to how invested I became for 103 minutes in the adventures of pieces of fur and plastic. And if Toy Story 3 is traumatizing, it is in the same way and for the same reason that The Velveteen Rabbit is traumatizing. Let's say it's not worth worrying about. Sit back, put on your glasses, and enjoy: It's summer, and Pixar has made you a treat. G.

Opens Friday at 99 West Drive-In, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century at Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18&IMAX, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lake Twin Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, St. Johns Twin Cinemas and Pub, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.