06/16/2010 05:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

I will admit to having a particular soft spot for the Toy Story films which, aside from memories of watching them with my kids when they were small, has a lot to do with their place in film history.

Toy Story, released in 1995, was the first animated feature that was completely computer-generated. It was a huge thing and changed films as we know them -- to the point that, today, traditional hand-drawn animation is an endangered species.

But Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were more than just novelties or cartoons. They were also both dazzlingly imaginative and wildly funny. And, thankfully, Toy Story 3, opening Friday, lives up to its heritage in every way.

Forget every other computer-animated film that's on the schedule for this summer: Toy Story 3, which is in 3D, is the one computer-animated film that you need to see. In a summer full of big-budget bombs and unfunny comedies, Toy Story 3 delivers in all the ways it needs to: as a comedy, as an adventure, as a thriller -- and as a tear-jerker. No, your kids won't cry -- though they may be frightened by the climactic scene in which the toys face all-but-certain doom. But you will or, at a minimum, you'll be seriously choked up.

Fifteen years after the first film, Toy Story 3 features most of the same toys from the first two movies. But their days as playthings are almost over. Andy, the toys' owner who was a tot in the first film, is heading off to college, cleaning out his room -- and making some hard decisions regarding those toys in his toy chest that have gone unplayed-with for so long.

Afraid they're headed for the garbage dump, the toys themselves make an escape, hiding in a box of things being donated to a local daycare center. It seems like heaven at first: a place where kids play with toys all day long. But the toys quickly realize what a mistake they've made, when they experience their first day in the hands of toddlers for whom the toys are not age-appropriate.

Battered and bruised, they discover that, in fact, they're trapped in the toddler part of the daycare center, tricked into staying there by older, more experienced toys, who assign themselves to the room with the older children. Quicker than you can say "prison break," Andy's toys are plotting their escape.

Written by Pixar veterans John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and director Lee Unkrich (and Little Miss Sunshine cowriter Michael Arndt), Toy Story 3 is light years -- make that Buzz Lightyears -- ahead of the original in terms of how refined the visual imagery has become.