- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Woody the cowboy, Buzz Lightyear and their “Toy Story” pals are back on the big-screen in a new adventure.

The voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Michael Keaton, Joan Cusack and other stars are featured in a “Toy Story” short film that runs before the Pixar Animation sequel “Cars 2,” which debuts in U.S. theaters Friday.

“Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation” has Hanks‘ Woody, Allen’s Buzz, Cusack’s Jessie the cowgirl and the other toys coming up with a scheme to give doll sweethearts Ken and Barbie (Keaton and Jodi Benson) the trip of their dreams.

After lending his voice to the franchise’s three blockbuster feature-length films, Hanks says he’ll keep coming back to do the voice of Woody whenever Disney-owned Pixar wants to do more with the “Toy Story” characters.

“Are those people some brand of genius that you can’t really begin to fathom?” Hanks said of Pixar, whose 11 feature-length animated films have all been critical and commercial successes. “As long as I don’t develop a smoker’s cough, yeah, I’m there. Whatever they need. There’s only one Woody, and it’s me.”

Along with winning six of the 10 Academy Awards for feature-length animation since that category was added, Pixar has earned 10 Oscar nominations for its short films, winning three.

Some of those short cartoons have preceded other Pixar feature films on the big-screen, reviving a sense of the serial entertainment that Hollywood provided at cinemas in its early years.

“We really believe in the short film,” said Pixar’s creative mastermind, John Lasseter, who received a special Oscar for 1995’s “Toy Story,” the first computer-animated feature film. “One, in the case of these, it just kind of keeps new animation of our favorite characters going. Secondly, for us internally, it’s a great way for us to let younger artists take the next step up in their career to try directing.”

The new “Toy Story” short is directed by Gary Rydstrom, a seven-time Oscar winner for sound or sound-effects editing on such movies as “Titanic,” “Jurassic Park” and “Saving Private Ryan.” A veteran sound designer on Pixar films, Rydstrom previously directed the company’s Oscar-nominated 2006 animated short “Lifted.”

Lasseter, who also directed “Toy Story 2,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Cars” and “Cars 2,” said short cartoons allow him and the Pixar crew to keep in touch with characters they have come to consider friends.

Pixar has crafted short films for television and home video reprising characters from “Cars,” “The Incredibles,” “Up” and other feature hits.

“We’ll come up with great ideas, little gags and stuff that are really fun, that are not necessarily appropriate story-wise for a feature film,” Lasseter said. “But they’re really fantastic for a short film where you would love to see the characters again.”

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