Toy Story 3

Despite the fact that it’s another joyous, action-packed, endlessly entertaining and laugh-out-loud Pixar spectacle, there’s something immediately melancholy about Toy Story 3. Perhaps it’s the fact that this is the third and likely last in a trilogy that we’ve all grown so fond of. Perhaps its because Pixar just knows how to do sadness (see Up, Wall E, etc). But mostly I think it’s because Toy Story reminds all of us of our own childhoods–of those whimsical, carefree worlds of make believe that occupied the free time we now fill with work and stress. Oh for the days of youth! The Toy Story trilogy captures it so well, and the third installment beautifully, affectingly evokes one of its most bittersweet aspects: Growing up.

From the outset of Toy Story 3–where we discover that Andy is going off to college and must either give away, throw away, or relegate his toys to the attic–there is a profound and universal sense of loss. Things change. Nothing is permanent. Everyone grows up and must leave their childhood behind, once and for all. I teared up during the opening sequence of the film, anticipating how it would end. And sure enough, I was a weeping mess by the end. I don’t think I’ve cried more in a movie since maybe A.I.

Which is interesting, because A.I. is also a film about toys with feelings. What it is about this that is so heartbreaking? Maybe it’s because in our consumer culture our toys and collected possessions really do take on personal, relational–even spiritual–significance for us. Maybe it has something to do with the recognition that, while the world changes and we grow up, change, and eventually die, the objects and artifacts that lend meaning to our lives at various stages do not change or age or die. They are just discarded. So, when we anthropomorphize something like a cowboy doll or robot, and imagine that there truly is a two-way reciprocal love going on between it and the human, of course we are going to feel devastated when someone like Andy doesn’t find it too difficult to move on and leave Woody behind. Woody is just a toy. But from Woody’s anthropomorphic point of view, it’s like the worst sort of rejection: The one person who you’ve always loved and who it has been your life’s purpose to love unconditionally does not entirely reciprocate those feelings. It’s the same tragic scenario Hayley Joel Osment’s robot character faces in A.I. And in both movies, it’s utterly devastating.

Another film I thought of as I watched Toy Story 3 was Summer Hours–the critically acclaimed French film from 2009 starring Juliette Binoche. Like Toy Story 3, Summer Hours is about what impermanence means both for humans and for the objects humans acquire. It’s about people dying and their possessions being disbursed to the next generation, where new meaning and significance will undoubtedly be ascribed to them. In both films, the reality of “what happens to my stuff”–when I leave, or move, or die–is of central concern.

But it’s not really about the stuff. Toy Story is not really about toys. It’s about the reality of the passing of time–a painful, relentless, unnatural phenomenon that–for creatures like us who were made to be eternal–always feels a bit like an ill-fitting coat.

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16 responses to “Toy Story 3

  1. Maybe it’s not because of our culture that we connect so much, but the fact that it is easier to transfer our emotions into an inanimate object that doesn’t have a “history” except for the one we create for it. In other words, the Toy Story movies resonate so deeply because there are fewer barriers keeping us from identifying with the emotions they are feeling because they are not human; they don’t have complicated stories that don’t fall in line with our story.

    Don’t get me wrong, I bawled the last half hour of Toy Story 3, but I think I connect with the characters in the movie so much because I don’t have to work to empathize, instead I just recognize the truth of the emotions.

    I think what I am trying to say in this ramble is that anthropomorphization allows us to boil emotions down to a universal level that is much more recognizable than the complicated forms that human emotions often take.

    • “anthropomorphization allows us to boil emotions down to a universal level that is much more recognizable than the complicated forms that human emotions often take.”

      I think that’s exactly right. Maybe it also explains why we sometimes love our pets more than our human relationships.

      • shakespeherian

        Or why film audiences are always more dismayed by the death of a dog than that of any number of humans (cf. The Lost World etc).

  2. Did you notice the NIV Bible in the book headed to college?

  3. CreativeDeath

    I’m beginning to think “Summer Hours” is the only film you actually saw in 2009.

  4. “the passing of time–a painful, relentless, unnatural phenomenon that–for creatures like us who were made to be eternal–always feels a bit like an ill-fitting coat.”

    Yes. I’ve long suspected this but been unable to describe succinctly. Would you suggest that in eternity, we’ll be unable to mark time since there will be no decay, loss, or change?

  5. i was drawn here by a link to Malick’s Tree of Life and since I recently saw TS3 once in 3d and once at the drive-in with my wife and daughters: i never “bought into” Andy’s investment in his toys–an odd reification and fetishistic one-way dialogue–no question Pixar is beautifully utopian and Christian like your site and Andy’s send off of his plastic ephemera is touching–for me, Lotso’s betrayal during the apocalyptic near-ending was most difficult to explain without reference to BP and our dearly departed Gulf

  6. Pingback: Toy Story 3 » Pierced to the Heart

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