Toy Story 3 06/18/2010
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Written by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich
The greatness Pixar is able to deliver each year has become such a reliable tradition that mentioning it is becoming somewhat redundant. It’s an understandable habit that critics, myself included, have developed; it’s still a bit of a shock to have a constant stream of high quality American mainstream animation after years of mediocrity. Allow me to put this habit to bed right now, and I’ll continue with addressing their latest film: Toy Story 3.
I needn’t introduce the world nor it’s characters as I’m sure you know them rather well. Once again, the heroes of Toy Story are required to face inevitable change and must adapt accordingly. In the first film, released 15 years ago, Woody and the gang had to deal with a new addition to Andy’s room: Buzz Lightyear. Buzz was a new presence that drew attention away from Woody, forcing him to come to terms with sharing the spotlight, and ultimately forging a community of equals in the process. In the next film, Woody encountered a new world after being stolen, and had to choose between a shallow life where he’d be valued for his appearance and monetary worth or the one where he belonged in which the happiness he shares with those he cares about counted above all else. Now, Andy has grown up and is about to head to College. Woody and the toys must face that they are no longer needed.
At first, the toys decide a life in the attic is the hounorable choice. This way, if Andy ever sees them fit for use, perhaps in service of a future child of his, he can put them back into action. Andy chooses to take Woody to College, and gathers the rest of the bunch for the attic. However, through a series of errors, the toys end up being donated to a daycare centre known as “Sunnyside”; a name that shares the irony found in the titles bestowed upon retirement homes. Here the toys have all they need: constant attention from a never-ending cycle of youngsters and a plethora of other toys to share the good times with. Overjoyed, they decide to stay, except for Woody, who sets out to return to Andy.
The patriarchal figure of Sunnyside, is an old stuffed bear named Lotso. He seems to be a kind leader, but quickly relegates the new arrivals to the “Caterpillar Room” wherein the toddlers recklessly play with the toys, whereas Lotso and his cohorts relish in the splendor of the “Butterfly Room”, where the more considerate children play. Once the toys catch on to this, they are imprisoned. Woody returns in an effort to set them free. What makes the film work on such a strong level is the nature of the ideas driving the film. The toys encounter a hierarchical institution run by a stubborn ruler (whose back-story parallels the main plot as it is revealed that he was abandoned by his owner, and was driven to his current unpleasant self by the resulting trauma) who runs the system in such a way to oppress those lower on the ladder in order to benefit himself. Woody and the toys make an escape and return to living within their autonomous community. I’d be fond of declaring this to be a pro-anarchist allegory of sorts, but that’s a bit of a stretch. Still, it’s a film that puts emphasis on individualistic freedom and the power of anarchic communal decision-making.
Of course, the main theme lies within accepting an uncertain future and overcoming it through placing one’s trust in those they love. This is reiterated beautifully in the climax of the film. The toys end up at a landfill, and are slowly descending into an incinerator. The inevitable fire lies ahead of them, and the toys silently make peace with the situation. They meet eyes and hold hands, accepting an undesirable fate, and overcoming the fear of the situation by embracing the love they share. Expectedly, a deus ex machina comes into play, saving them from their deaths, but the notion that chance must intervene to rescue them does not steal the power away from what precedes it: a surprisingly powerful sequence that depicts a collective emotional strength that overshadows a time of dire struggle.
That isn’t the last of powerful sequences that Toy Story 3 has to offer. Another parallel of the plight of the toys is that of Andy’s, who must let go of his childhood and go forth into the uncertain realm of adulthood. Once the toys are back home, Andy makes the decision to donate them to a little girl. He brings them all to her house, and in the front yard, introduces them each one by one with a nostalgic pride. The last toy is Woody, who up until this moment Andy planned to keep. He realizes that he is holding onto to something that is already gone and hands him over. It is here that the film pays tribute to its inspiration. Andy and the little girl play with the toys, which aren’t animated in the way were used to in the film, but are brought to life by the people playing with them, by unfettered imagination. Andy says goodbye and hops into his car, and gives one last wave to the girl and the toys, bidding farewell not just to his toys but also to the life he has lead so far. Perhaps I shouldn’t find this scene as moving as I do.
I’m not sure how this film stacks up against its predecessors. Surely, the impressive character development of the second film is not matched. This shortcoming shines through clearest with the uninspired use of the character Jessie, who may be the best-written character of the series. That being said, I’m not interested in assessing Toy Story 3 through comparative relations. I’m merely thankful that for the third time I got to successfully engage with a world I thought lost. The emotional resonance I feel might come from the special relationship I’ve had with the films. I’ve roughly been in the same stages of life that Andy was through each of the three films. As I write this, I’m a young adult entering new territory, and when Toy Story 2 was released I was going through the awkward final stages of prepubescence. And, upon the release of the original Toy Story, I was a young child, to whom the potential of a room full of toys seemed to reach infinity and beyond.