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Pixar recaptures magic with 3-D 'Toy Story'

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Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009 12:00 am

Between Pixar's "Up" and Disney's release of Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo," 2009 had already cemented itself as a notable year for animated films in general and Disney presentations in particular.

With their 3-D reissue of the two "Toy Story" films for a limited two-week double-feature engagement, the folks at Disney/Pixar have topped themselves and provided one of the most thrilling movie-going experiences of recent years. It'll be gone in a week's time, and if you miss it you'll hate yourself later.

In other news, Paramount is looking to roll out the already infamous, ultra-low-budget fright flick "Paranormal Activity" in theaters nationwide before Halloween, provided they can get enough popular support. So sign that online pledge at http://www.eventful.com/paranormalactivity">www.eventful.com/paranormalactivity, because I for one want to see this thing — like, now.

But good things come to those who wait (and sign online petitions).

And in the meantime, this weekend's only new wide release, "Couple's Retreat," isn't exactly in the spirit of the season (although the prospect of another watered-down, PG-13-rated rom-com does indeed scare me a little bit), so next week we'll catch up with a look at the surprise hit "Zombieland" as we lurch toward Halloween and a look at the 10 best horror films of the past decade. And yes, that list will most certainly include "Trick 'r Treat," a recent direct-to-DVD release that should have discriminating horror buffs lickin' their chops despite its humble origins.

I recall seeing "Toy Story" in theaters when I was 12 years old. I went with my friend Robert for his birthday, and although the theater was small, the experience of seeing a computer-animated film for the first time left an impression on me.

It's easy to take such effects for granted at a time when CGI reins supreme and traditional animation is very nearly dead, but 14 years ago it was pretty mind-blowing to witness such a massive breakthrough in cinema technology.

Watching the film and its sequel again in digital 3-D, I was able to recapture that sense of wonder.

Studios have gone a bit crazy with this technology over the past year or so, hoping to use the advent of sophisticated 3-D effects to distract from a lack of compelling story and/or interesting characters, but here the visuals work beautifully. Pixar's signature attention to detail dazzles once again on the big screen, and although the films were not originally tailored for 3-D, the shift feels natural.

The first "Toy Story" is widely regarded as a better film than its sequel, but I've always argued passionately in favor of "Toy Story 2," which fleshes out and enriches already familiar characters with great care, expanding the scope of their world and accentuating core themes of trust and fraternity. (Plus, it introduces Joan Cusack as Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, the best Pixar creation of all.)

We won't know until next summer how the third film (also presented in 3-D) turns out, but as long as it's at least half as fun as this nostalgic double-feature, it'll be yet another in a long line of home runs for Pixar.

"Trick 'r Treat" definitely isn't a children's movie, but it's filled with such a childlike sense of glee that watching it will make you feel like a kid again — provided you've a twisted sense of humor, and a healthy love of Halloween. In telling four intersecting stories of murder and mayhem, the film does a great job of capturing not only the spirit of old E.C. horror comics and the great horror movie anthologies ("Tales from the Crypt," "Vault of Horror," "Creepshow" and its first sequel, http://et.al">et.al.), but indeed the feel and the vibe of the holiday itself.

Now in theaters

"Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" 3-D
**** (out of four)
1995/1999, John Lasseter, U.S. G

Now on DVD

"Trick 'r Treat"
****
2008, Michael Dougherty, U.S.

Set amidst the chaos of a Mardi Gras-style Halloween festival, the self-aware stories (involving a murderous school principal; a virginal Little Red Riding Hood; a group of young pranksters; and an old man who gets a most unwelcome Halloween visitor) play off every cliché in the book to delightful effect, and the end result is a dizzying horror odyssey that is akin to "Pulp Fiction" in both structure and overall attitude.

"Trick 'r Treat" is a goofy, fun-loving amalgam of familiar horror concepts and situations, but writer/director Michael Dougherty isn't using these components as a crutch; instead he utilizes genre history to present an old-school creep show with a modern perspective, filled with sly references to everything from the writings of Ray Bradbury and Robert Block to the television series "The Twilight Zone" to the films of John Carpenter and Sam Raimi. The entire movie is like a heady sugar high for horror fans.

If the studio had released "Trick 'r Treat" in theaters as planned instead of shelving it for two years and dumping it as a direct-to-DVD release, then the film might have gotten the broader audience it deserves. Now it must rely strictly on word of mouth, and in my experience people aren't too receptive to watching random horror movies that went straight to DVD. But trust me on this one — it's fun, it's funny, and it'll get you into that great holiday rhythm. The buzz will last for days.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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