Buzz Lightyear to the rescue as 'Toy Story 3' sets box-office record

Eleven years since Toy Story 2 broke cinematic convention by proving to be a better film than its original, British audiences must endure the best part of another month before catching the third instalment in the adventures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the toy cupboard.

But in the United States, where studios had a series of flops in May and the worst Memorial Day attendances in 15 years, Pixar's long-awaited new release hit the screens last weekend and has become the pioneering animator's fastest ever grossing film.

Initial estimates put the opening weekend box office takings at $109m (£73m), with long queues at midnight screenings of the type normally the preserve of cult franchises such as Harry Potter and Star Wars. A preview at the Edinburgh Film Festival has also had critics on both sides of the Atlantic raving about the success of director Lee Unkrich's venture into 3D and hailing it as the jewel of the summer schedules, evoking the same blend of humour and pathos that enraptured a generation of parents and their offspring in the 1990s.

The film's success comes hard on the heels of some well-hyped turkeys, including Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Robin Hood and Iron Man 2.

In Toy Story 3, a college age Andy must decide what to do with his former playmates before setting off to a new life at university. Ian Freer, assistant editor of Empire magazine, said fans would not be disappointed: "This is one of the most anticipated films of the year, by audiences and critics alike. I have seen it and it will definitely deliver on that anticipation. I am sure it will break records here."

The success of the 3D format and particularly the phenomenal appeal of Avatar, which last year became the second highest grossing film of all time, has helped to sustain the movie industry in the teeth of the worst recession since the Second World War. In the UK, revenues from January to May were £448m – up 7 per cent on last year, according to the UK Film Council.

Next year promises blockbusters including the fourth in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and the latest Spider-Man. Before then animation lovers can look forward to the return of the green ogre in Shrek Forever After, which will go head to head with Toy Story for the first time when it is released in the UK next weekend.

Pixar, which until now had only one sequel to its name, is set to follow up Toy Story 3 with new instalments of Cars and Monsters, Inc. It will not release another original film until 2012.

The Toy Story story

*The debut release in 1995 by Steve Jobs' Pixar studios, Toy Story was the first full-length feature film to deploy the new CGI technology and was an instant success grossing $361m worldwide, making it the most successful film of the year.

*The film tells the story of a wooden cowboy toy, voiced by Tom Hanks, who becomes jealous when a fancy spaceman figure – Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen – supplants him and becomes his owner's new favourite plaything.

* Toy Story was nominated for three Oscars, two for its Randy Newman soundtrack. Buzz Lightyear's catchphrase "To Infinity and Beyond!" became one of the most oft-quoted of the decade.

*Four years later, Toy Story 2 proved to be even more of a commercial hit, earning $485m worldwide. It was warmly received by the critics.

*Pixar was bought by Disney in 2006 for $7bn, by which time it had produced its most successful offering to date – Finding Nemo in 2003. The company's other highly acclaimed hits include Monsters, Inc. and Up.

* Toy Story 3, Pixar's 11th full-length feature film, will be released in the UK next month.