Movies: Toy Story 3

Since my older son just left for college a couple of months ago, the premise of this movie was one I could easily relate to. An eighteen-year-old doesn’t play with toys – at least not the sort he loved eight or ten years ago. (He is, however, looking forward to receiving a Nerf N-Strike Rapid Fire Raider CS-35 for Christmas, for playing Zombie Apocalypse Nerf Wars at college.)

Zach never had the huge number of toys Andy did in the Toy Story movies, however, and for now his bedroom is still his, with whatever stuff he didn’t take to college. So I didn’t have to make him choose between putting toys – or anything else – in the attic, or getting rid of them. Andy does have to make that choice, and most of his toys, as much as they don’t care for the idea of being left for years in a dark, dusty attic, are much more afraid that they’ll be thrown in the trash.

Of course that’s exactly what happens, and even though it was through a misunderstanding, Woody has a hard time convincing any of the other toys that Andy still cares about them. After all, why should he? Kids do outgrow toys, and just because Andy wants to take his all-time favorite toy (Woody) to college with him, that doesn’t mean he has much interest in the rest of them. I kept some animal figurines that were mine as a child, but they are – and were even when I was younger – things to look at, not to play with.

Of course, the toys have always been afraid of being abandoned, or being replaced by new and better playthings. Now they have spent years in a toy chest, longing for the moment they’ll be played with again. When they see an opportunity to hitch a ride to a daycare center, where there will be many children to play with them, they jump at the opportunity. All except Woody, that is – his goal is to keep his friends together, and to get them all back to Andy.

One message of Toy Story 2 was that a toy’s purpose and joy is in being loved and played with, even if that means it gets dirty and maybe even torn or chipped. Toy Story 3, though, presents a scenario where getting played with is anything but fun. A bunch of high energy toddlers “play” with the toys by hitting, chewing, drawing on, and otherwise misusing them. There is none of the exuberant imaginary play they experienced with Andy. The toddlers don’t love the toys, they just love using them.

Now the movie takes a dark turn. In the original Toy Story, all the toys were good-hearted. Impatient, foolish, and quarrelsome sometimes – like the children who play with them. But even when the other toys turn a cold shoulder to Woody, it is only because they believe he had done something very bad to Buzz Lightyear. It is Sid, the boy next door, who is the real villain.

In Toy Story 2, Stinky Pete turns out to be very selfish, but even he acts out of a desire for what he thinks is a better future for all of them, not out of pure spite. And anyway, since he doesn’t want to be played with, he’s not all that “toyish” a character. Toy Story 3 introduces a rather different situation, where some toys have become evil, corrupt bullies who seem to enjoy picking on other toys who don’t have the privileged position they do.

It’s not a movie for young children. I’ve read that it should have been rated PG instead of G, and I would agree. There’s lots of fun and lots of humor, but also some dark scenes and at least one that would be quite scary for young children. I read one review that said Pixar should never have made any toys evil, as toys represent the innocence of children, and that it is adults who cause the problems in children’s lives.

As there are no children free of the influence of adults, it’s rather hard to demonstrate the untruth of that view, but it seems to me fairly evident that children are capable of a great deal of cruelty. The “bad” toys in Toy Story 3 act a lot more like bad adults than like bad children, perhaps because even childish cruelty tends to be spontaneous and inconsistent.

Children don’t tend to hold a grudge a long time. (I remember, after being punished very unfairly in my opinion, promising myself I would never love my father again. I don’t remember how long that lasted, but it wasn’t long.) Lotso, the stuffed bear villain who is lovable on the outside but very ugly on the inside, has held a grudge for a very long time, and is the one who has organized things in the daycare so that he wields the power and his minions enforce his corrupt rule.

Children – or childlike toys – are probably also not capable of organizing the prison-escape that Andy’s toys make – or at any rate almost make – from the daycare. The army men might have done it, but they were among the first toys to bail out from Andy’s room (explaining that toy soldiers are always the first to get thrown out). At least one review I read said that the movie is too plot-driven rather than character-driven (a criticism I would make of Toy Story 2 at least as much as this movie). And it may be a valid criticism, but the movie has so much else going for it that I don’t see it as a huge fault.

A few viewers don’t find the ending satisfying. I won’t say what that ending is, but I thought it was very well done. Kids do grow up, they do outgrow their toys, yet the toys are still worth playing with and don’t deserve to be thrown out. They can be kept in the attic for grandchildren – as my parents did with our toys, though I don’t think very many ever made it back out into the hands of our children. Or they can hope – if toys can be granted the personhood that Toy Story grants them – the future they are given at the end of Toy Story 3.

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