Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Toy Story, Like a Hen Gathereth Chicks

January 07th, 2011 by G.

Calvin–Watterson’s Calvin, not the Calvin of the Institutes–says that the second bowl of chocolate frosted sugar bomb cereal is the best. The first is spoiled by anticipating the bowls to come. By the third you frankly feel a little sick.

Cereal eating probably has nothing to teach us about movies. Probably, but Toy Story II was the best of the Toy Stories. It had a moral depth that the others didn’t reach.

Hear me out, dudgeoneers. I don’t claim that I and III lacked moral content or value. Toy Story I was a fun little adventure story. In the person of Buzz Lightyear, the message was about preferring real, prosaic relationships to celluloid fantasies. Toy Story III also had a decent message about preferring real relationships even at the risk of heartbreak, though the message was derivative of II’s. I liked both movies fine.

I liked Toy Story II better. Here’s why. The Toy Stories are about families. The toys’ relationship to kids is analagous to spouses’ relationship to spouses and especially parents’ relationship to kids. Each of the Toy Stories has a message that fits into that analogy. In the person of Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story I is about putting aside a fantasy existence for marriage and children. Toy Story II is about giving your heart to your spouse and your children even knowing the possibility (with the spouse) and the probability (with the children) that they’ll grow away from you, leave you, and break your heart; Toy Story II is about sticking it out with your family when you first realize in your gut that the good times aren’t going to last. Toy Story III is sort of about the same thing as Toy Story II, just lest effectively.

In Toy Story II, the analogy to parenthood reaches beyond platitudes and feel-good sentiment. Morally, II’s central character is Woody. He finds out that his boy, Andy, will unwittingly damage him and that Andy will likely leave him as Andy grows. He is given a choice. He can go to a children’s museum in Japan where he will “delight” kids. His existence will be more sterile, because he won’t have love, but he won’t be broken or abandoned. Instead, Woody ultimately makes the bittersweet choice to go back to Andy, come what may. A parent–a father, like me, who has little girls who call him daddy, little girls who put drawings under his pillow . . . little girls for now–may be forgiven for getting a little choked up. Mormons might even see an analogy to the Father’s choice between Jesus’ plan and Satan’s plan, and understand like they haven’t before that the Father’s choice was tragic.

Toy Story III takes the bitter part of Toy Story II’s bittersweet choice and tries to make it sweet. Toy Story III tries to deny that there need be any tragedy.

SPOILERS. There is no central character as such. Andy’s toys are an ensemble cast. As foreboded in II, Andy does indeed grow up and leave off playing with the toys. He grows up so much, in fact, that he’s going to college. The toys’ original hope is to ‘retire’ to the attic, spending the years together until Andy comes back home and wants to relive his old memories, while Woody himself might go with Andy as a memento. Mishaps happen, however, and in the end Andy brings his toys to a nice little neighbor girl. The toys become part of a new family, ready to embark on a new adventure of love. Soft focus, the end.

This attempt to paper over the tragic element in Woody’s choice in Toy Story II is misguided. Trying to undo one of the key elements in your prior hit is never a good idea. The attempt also resonates in an unfortunate way with our culture of serial relationships and our notion that if a relationship isn’t fulfilling the best thing to do is move on and try again. Worst, ithe attempt doesn’t ring true to life. Kids do grow up. Parents don’t get to start over with everything just the same as it was. Even the God of the universe weeps. Even He can’t avoid giving his love to creatures who sometimes reject them and there’s nothing he can do about it.

O, ye nations of the earth, how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!

I’ve reviewed a few other Pixar movies. Have a look:

Cars

The Incredibles

I didn’t review Up. I didn’t much care for it compared to the other Pixars. The movie was incoherent about family and the taste for adventure.

Cross-posted at the Old Country.

Comments (6)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , ,
January 07th, 2011 12:00:36
6 comments

Vader
January 7, 2011

Oddly enough, considering, I think I’m a better Sith for having married. Yet I sometimes daydream about going back and doing it differently.

Some blessings are just very hard to receive.


Stephanie
January 7, 2011

I really like this. Good analysis.


Ben
January 7, 2011

Half of me really likes your analysis. I completely agree that these movies are working over issues at the heart of family relationships. I am totally on board with your analysis of Toy Story II, though I’ll stay uncommitted about whether it is the best or not.

I was worried about the same things, watching Toy Story III, and I had very mixed feelings about Andy’s decision to give Woody away especially, no matter how darling and devoted the new owner. However, I’m not convinced that the writers were really undoing what they said in Toy Story II.

The thing is, not all relationships are like marriage. If Toy Story III is about parents and children (not hard to find grounds for this), then there is something a bit different going on. Parents and children will always be tied to one another, or damaged by the loss of the tie. However, their relationship does have to change rather dramatically, at least in many cases, as the kids grow up, and this is not on the whole a bad thing. I actually have a lot of doubts about the contemporary American practice of sending kids far away to college, but when kids grow up, both parents and children need to reorient a lot of their energy. The kids, for example, should be getting married, and the parents may find that they have time for their own marriage in a way they didn’t for years. The mother in a traditional family may find she now can launch a second career. These are good things and do not negate or even necessarily diminish the value of the relationship between parent and child.

But keep up the analysis! This is part of why I love Pixar so much!


Adam G.
January 7, 2011

Ben,
very good analysis. Obviously kids do need to grow up, and a college freshman having a five-year olds’ relationship with his toys or his parents would be absurd. And empty-nesters should cope rather than mope.
My objection is that Toy Story III doesn’t really show this. What they show is too glib and too much like replacing the kid, instead of coping with his loss by finding something else productive to do.


JamesM
January 7, 2011

I enjoyed your article, but I disagree strongly about Up. It’s core themes and messages are as profound of any of the Pixar films. It’s about moving on (for example, the physical act of emptying the house of its baggage as a metaphor for shedding the types of emotional baggage we carry that keeps us from reaching our potential) , it’s about the underlying motivation of our actions (in the respective attitudes of the Carl and Muntz towards Kevin and the its impact on their character, and ultimately their fate), it’s about loyalty and relationships (Carl & each Ellie-Russel-Doug).

The vehicle is unconventional and the themes are subtle, but I urge you not to dismiss it. I consider it Pixar’s greatest achievement – which is saying a lot when you have to contend with the Toy Stories, Ratatouille and Wall-E.


chanson
January 9, 2011

That’s a good point about the conflicting morals of Toy Stories II & III. It’s a tricky subject to make a third movie about, though. In reality, for a kid like Andy to have cared for that small set of toys even that long would be unusual.

p.s. I agree about Up — it was my least favorite of the lot. People praised the originality of having an elderly character, but to me it felt like that was just the one new element that they plugged into a very generic formula script.

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