(FYI: You might want to read this AFTER you’ve watched “Toy Story 3”.)
I watched Toy Story 3, and I have to say, it blew away any expectations I had for the film or for any animated picture. (Pixar, you already had me at the inventive, daringly political, discreetly philosophical opening short “Night & Day.”) Ever since the almost militant environmentalist and anti-consumerist message of “Wall-E,” it was clear that Pixar was getting ready to usher in a whole new breed of animation: something that was no longer just kitschy, but now, just beneath the surface of each character and story line, was starting to emerge a real human heart and soul–and a fiery progressive agenda.
When Barbie (of all toys) starts to argue vehemently against the injustice of totalitarian regimes, you know your dealing with a daring piece of art and not just another family friendly farce. It’s as if the artistic department of Disney has been hijacked by reason-minded, level-headed progressives. And that’s pretty awesome. The corporate arm of Disney continues to encourage consumerism, exploit its workers, and encourages unhealthy eating habits. But the artistic arm of Disney still has its head firmly placed on its shoulders and continually decries its corporate side’s malpractices. (I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the last surviving humans at the end of Wall-E are stuck in a futuristic, Disney-esque-type cruise ship. Hypnotized by ad gimmicks as they overeat and sloth, these future humans are the direct consequence of a company like Disney’s corporate agenda. The artist’s seem to be saying that their original “Steamboat Willie” has become an oversized corporate machine, a monster that now has a life of its own. The cruise ship is no longer piloted by a cute little Mouse [Walt Disney], but by a cold, mechanical computer program a la “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The villain in Wall-E is the cruise ship itself, a symbol for corporate consumerism run a mock, suffocating the earth with waste and holding humanity captive.)
I could go on and on at how Toy Story 3 strongly criticizes the unlawful practices of the Bush Era, or how it touches upon the evils of exploiting immigrant labor, or how it addresses the growing class divide in this country, or how the overall theme of loss in the movie strikes the right cord with a generation that has felt so much loss over the last decade. I could talk about how the incredible storytelling, and all of its plot pyrotechnics, can only be attributed to the genius of the writer’s. (From the very beginning you have no clue what the fate of these toys will be until the very end, and it is clear that the story could land them anywhere, including a toy’s final resting place. That’s great storytelling.)
So yeah, I could talk all about that. But instead I’m going to focus on what I think is the most subversive theme of the entire film: the tragic end of The Kid.
You know The Kid. You were The Kid once. Toy Story 3 represents this persona so beautifully. As The Kid, everything is possible, there is no limit to the imagination: play is honored as sacred and vital to life, nothing is taken too seriously, and we are allowed to just be ourselves, however silly, strange, or outlandish we can be. Rules? What rules? Authority? What authority? As The Kid, we are the authority in our own life.
The real tragedy of Toy Story 3 is not where the Toy’s end up, but the fact that Andy, The Kid of the story, finally leaves. Literally and metaphorically (I’m telling you these writer’s are brilliant!). He goes off to college, but it isn’t just that. Andy, The Kid, dies, leaving the audience with Andy The Grown Up. That is why the audience tears up as we see Andy wave goodbye at the end.
Because we remember that, just like Andy, we were all The Kid once. We used to play for hours and hours, without any attention to the time. We weren’t really afraid of anything. We understood our tremendous power, and as constant creators, at that moment, we we’re the closest to God as we would ever be.
As the audience, we also tear up because we all know what’s going to happen to Andy now that he’s left his Kid behind. The insecurity will grow, then the petty worries will come. The trading of the imagination and play for “practical” and “grown up” endeavors will take place. Then comes the love, the heartbreak, the disillusionment, the getting lost and trying to find it all again. Now that he’s left his Kid, things will start to get complicated for Andy, then more complicated, then more complicated. He’ll forget to just be himself, and he’ll try to be what others want him to be. He’ll forget to take risks and he’ll forget how to use his imagination to solve problems. He’ll forget how to trust himself and just go with what feels right in his gut. He’ll forget how to improvise and forget why making outlandish suggestions can sometimes be useful. He’ll forget to be brave, he’ll forget to have fun, he’ll forget to not take things so seriously, he’ll forget how sweet life is when he stops following the clock. He’ll forget all this because no Kid will be around to remind him of it. He’ll be dwelling in a place where everyone has put their toys away, just like him.
The tragedy is that we don’t forget to play just because we’ve put all our toys away in the attic. No. That’s only a symbolic gesture. We know it was never the toys that really made us happy. It was the moment that made us happy. It was the moment in which we played with our toys and who we were when we had them. That’s what we put away in the attic. That’s what each grown-up buries deep inside of them, and forgets about, until other grown-ups, who never buried their Kid, make a movie about it (an animated feature they say is for kids but really is for the old dusty Kid in us), and then finally you remember.
You take out your Kid, dust him off, and you finally let him watch the movie. Your Kid knows how to suspend reality, so this brave new world is fun and awesome to him. You’re all wide-eyed and mesmerized again. You want the toys. You want them so bad, not because you want to own plastic, but because you want to re-enter that state of bliss. The one you forgot. Where everything was possible, where the imagination was king, where time did not exist, where you were the director, writer, and actor of your life. A state where you could just be yourself and that was enough. Where life was a playground, and you knew, without having to think, how to get the most out of it. How to squeeze all of life’s juices out to those last savory drops. How to laugh loud and hard, run till your legs got sore, smile at a ladybug, investigate a strange rock, explore the beautiful and strange new terrain of this world.
It was simple. So simple. But the stubborn Grown Up never could accept the simplicity. The world lost its novelty to The Grown Up. Everything became mundane, predictable, dull and boring. You blamed it on the world. You thought the whole world had changed, that those toys you played with had changed. But they didn’t change. No, they didn’t change. You did. You changed. You left. You gave up The Kid. The Kid didn’t leave you. The Grown Up replaced The Kid, and The Grown Up was too stubborn trying to “figure out” the meaning of life, when The Kid knew all along that the meaning of life was just to live it.
The death of Andy The Kid is a tragedy and it should never be allowed. Thank you Pixar for reminding us.
Thanks to Toy Story 3, I’m now ready to dust off my Kid and resurrect him. Because he’s got a lot to teach me and I have a whole lot to re-learn.
It’s about time we all finally give our Kids the respect and attention they deserve.
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