Andy’s off to college in Toy Story 3, leaving his favorite playmates Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the plastic gang at a literal and philosophical crossroads, forced to choose between clinging to a life that’s passed them by or embarking on a new, uncertain future. As such, Lee Unkrich’s sequel fits snugly into the thematic arc of Pixar’s signature franchise, casting its tale of toys’ inevitable obsolescence (at least with their original owner) as a parable about the transience of human life, and the means by which we decide how to live it. Given its focus on transition, the film – which follows the toys as they’re accidentally shipped off to Sunnyside Day Care, where they’re compelled to reenact The Great Escape – proves more morose than its predecessors, a tone that Unkrich (working from Michael Arndt’s script) attempts to counteract with a series of high-wire action set pieces, from an opening fantasy train sequence to a later voyage into a trash dump incinerator. It’s a strategy that doesn’t always work, both because the more somber atmosphere neuters some of the story’s zippiness, and because many of the overtly jovial scenarios – such as those involving Barbie’s budding romance with the shady (and, it’s groaningly suggested, gay) Ken – simply aren’t that charming or amusing. Pixar’s buoyant, glossy CG animation is as enticing as ever, yet aside from humor that’s only intermittently inspired, the film also suffers from a slight sense of repetition, especially in the case of Sunnyside’s nefarious ruler Lotso (Ned Beatty), a stuffed bear whose backstory treads abandonment/resentment territory similar to that of cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack). Still, if inferior to its illustrious prior installments, Toy Story 3 nonetheless balances rollicking adventure, personality-driven comedy and wrenching pathos with a deftness only surpassed by a handful of animation efforts, its poignancy reaching an apex with an image of solidarity in the face of dawning death, and again during a finale that recognizes the heartache, and yet also potential elation, of letting go.