Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Toy Story 3: Mortality Play


"Toy Story" was a kids' film about toys that came to life when no one was watching. It was witty, exciting and strangely poignant. It was also a parable about the dangers of jealousy and insecurity, the importance of friendship, loyalty, self-awareness and the ability to understand and accept one's place in the world.

"Toy Story 2" was all about accepting that nothing lasts forever, so enjoy it while you can. It was about the inevitability of loss. It was about coming to terms with mortality.

"Toy Story 3" is mostly about facing mortality head-on. How do you react when your time is up and you are finally facing the nothing that will last forever?

The film kicks off with most of the familiar toys packed away in a chest, lonely and desperate, as their owner is all growed up and getting ready for college and they may never be played with again. Through a series of tragic convolutions, the toys end up being donated to a daycare centre, which seems like it may actually be the perfect place to live out their days. But, of course, all is not as it appears...

Like its predecessors, "Toy Story 3" is a fast, funny and exciting ride, with some gripping sequences, memorable lines and indelible characters, but it is the resonant subtexts which genuinely interest and will ultimately lead to it outlasting most other films aimed at family audiences.

The toys having to face up to Andy's lack of need for them is played in a brilliantly human manner; the packing off to daycare is alarmingly similar to an elderly parent being abandoned to a residential home by children who have moved on with their lives, and the too-good-to-be-true daycare centre emerging as a kind of unforgiving prison-camp for toys lends a sharp dramatic edge to the comedy capers.

There are a number of sequences which may well challenge younger or more sensitive kids who've spent too long being molly-coddled by celebrity-voiced, wise-cracking animals dicking around in non-threatening adventures, but that can only be a good thing. There's a baby-doll that is like some sort of Frankenstein's monster henchman-thing, and a cymbal-clapping monkey that is destined to linger in the same childhood-trauma nightmares as clowns and the fucking Child Catcher. Plus, there is as terrifying a vision of the journey to hell as you'll ever get in a kids' film about toys.

Which leads me to my solitary problem with the film. As I've already stated, thematically speaking, both this film and the previous entry in the saga are preoccupied with acceptance of mortality. Everything ends, and that's okay. My problem is with the ending of the third film, so there are spoilers coming up.

There are two points toward the end of "Toy Story 3" where the theme of mortality (in toy form) is blatantly addressed. In one, brilliantly profound moment, the remaining toys literally and finally accept their deaths. It's a harsh but beautiful scene; unlike anything I can think of in an animated adventure film outside of the end of "Watership Down". And in another scene, it appears the toys will be separated - Woody going to college with Andy, and the others being packed into the attic - and everyone says their goodbyes in a ruefully optimistic and understanding manner. Both purely brilliant scenes of bittersweet truth.

The finale, however, takes a slight swing toward the patronising, as Andy ultimately decides against mothballing his plastic pals and carrying the chick-magnet cowboy-doll around campus with him, and gives them all to a little girl who is nice to toys. This somehow felt like an ending designed for parents to comfort their little tykes on the drive home, at the expense of thematic cohesion. Instead of confronting their mortality, the toys get to start all over again. So nothing lasts forever, but it's okay, you can just move on to summat else?

Of course, if you want to be really pretentious about it, you could argue that the new life with the little girl represents some kind of afterlife for the toys: their reward for fighting their way through hell and back to do their duty to Andy. Or perhaps it's more like a reincarnation? Though things may change, the great circle of life continues...

Seriously though, it's a bloody brilliant film and I was only really unhappy with the ending because I'm a miserable get and wanted them all to die (literally or figuratively) so I could shout "THAT'S WHAT LIFE'S LIKE, KIDS! LEARN IT WELL! STOP CRYING, YOU WEEPY LITTLE CHIMPS!" at all the devastated children.

It's often hilarious, frequently thrilling and always surprising, and rounds out a consistently inventive and pioneering trilogy. There really is very little to call between all three of these films;each one telling its story masterfully and assuring its place in movie collections for the unforeseeable future. This one'll make you want to squeeze your cuddly extra-tight when you snuggle into bed afterwards, though.

Not that I sleep with a cuddly. I just heard you did.

Oh, and how does Andy know Jessie and Bullseye's names? Didn't he christen them "Bazooka Jane and her Jet Powered Horse" or summat at the end of "Toy Story 2"?


  1. "Seriously though, it's a bloody brilliant film and I was only really unhappy with the ending because I'm a miserable get and wanted them all to die (literally or figuratively) so I could shout "THAT'S WHAT LIFE'S LIKE, KIDS! LEARN IT WELL! STOP CRYING, YOU WEEPY LITTLE CHIMPS!" at all the devastated children."

    You mean like this? LOL.

  2. that was brilliant. You always manage to say what I was thinking with a better vocabularly and less use of the word "thingy". I looked at the whole "passing the toys on" as a kind of circle of life dealie, but that might have been because I just didn't want to see the representations of one of my first childhood movie memories incinerated. Because I am a weenie.

  3. Great review. Like you I'm a fellow projectionist and also managed to rehearse one of our prints last night and would have to agree with pretty everything you say. I thought for one moment they would all snuff it in that particular scene and that would quite possibly be a brilliant way to end it but then quickly accepted they would never do that, not in a Pixar/Disney film.

    What are your views on 3D btw??

    Love your blog. It's nice knowing we all pretty much think alike ;)

  4. Brilliant, you are. On a cinematic level, I would've preferred their demises, partly for all the oodles of philosophizing I'd get to do, partly to avoid anymore sequels that, sure, wouldn't suck, obviously, but y'know. But on an aesthetic and childhood level, it would've killed my soul. Probably.

  5. You spelled CHIMP wrong. It's FUCKNUCKLES.

    Just cos I sleep with a cuddly doesn't make me wrong.

  6. Anon: That's one of the endings I was hoping for. Would've given the little ones nightmares.

    Sugar: HA! Weenie.

    Matt: Yeah, I don't think I ever really thought they would do the "down" ending, but I hoped. I think 3D is a bit of a gimmick. I can see the attraction of it, but I don't think it's going to take over or anything. Nice to hear from another film-weaver! There are more of us than you know...

    Simon: Yeah, but come on! What's wrong with a little soul-destruction every now and then?

    Maf: No, it makes you sooo right...

    Cheers for comments!

  7. "This somehow felt like an ending designed for parents to comfort their little tykes on the drive home, at the expense of thematic cohesion."

    Naaa, I disagree with you, and all the comments, ha. It was a great way to end.

    Sure, life ends with DEATH. But for everything else beforehand, things change and carry on. Relationships end and begin. The Toys didn't have cancer, they didn't have heart disease; they were potentially not needed, unwanted, etc-- the right ending for that isn't a firey pit of metal junk. You guys just don't like the 'happy.

    Great film. Great ending. Great Buzz Dancing.