Resurrecting “The Kid”

Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.

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.

I could go on and on at how Toy Story 3 strongly criticizes the unlawful government practices of the 9/11 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 writers.

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.

Who’s “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. 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,  we were 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 Tragic End Of The Kid

The tragedy is not that we 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.

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.

much playtime!


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12 comments on “Resurrecting “The Kid”

  1. Ollin … I love this. We need to be reminded to find that kid in all of us. Listen to how much and how often kids laugh. It’s contagious and I often don’t even know what they’re laughing at. But I remember. Sometimes, we laughed over nothing … just silliness. We knew it then as we know it now. It feels good to remember. Thanks for reposting this.

  2. Rob F. says:

    Oddly enough, this arrived in my Google Reader aggregate right when I was writing a story based on two action figures I still own.

    To echo Judy, thanks for reposting that article, Ollin! I reckon it’s a good one to read when the Writing’s Getting Me Down – a reminder to relax and have fun with it!

    • Ollin says:

      I figured it would be a good one to revisit during Christmas time, when the child in us is most likely to want to come back out again. 🙂

  3. PJ Reece says:

    I’m going to disagree with you on this one. This nostalgia about “kidhood”… it’s become the conventional wisdom that we should never lose it. But if you take a good look, the human organizm is designed in such a way that we do lose it… and then journey back to bliss again. But the new kidhood is a more conscious one. The new Kid is discovering what the meaning of life really is… which is to participate in his/her own evolution. The mental development of the child isn’t sufficient to do that. It would appear… from the way life stories have unfolded since Day One… that we need to go through the hell of losing our innocence so that we find it again. All fictional stories unfold in this way. What do you think of that?

    • Ollin says:

      Of course I’m not saying we must revert to childlike dependency and irresponsibility. What I meant by the “The Kid” was only the state of wonder. Just seeing life and the world anew. Remembering that we are creative, etc. Yes, part of that is a sense of mischief as well. But I don’t literally mean becoming a child again, I meant it metaphorically of course.

  4. keshav Ram says:

    I just returned back from a few minutes break at work, where I was wondering what the hell happened to me. What the hell is wrong with the world?

    Because I found a treasure, the only video of myself in my childhood. It was when I was in grade 2 – I was jumping everywhere, couldn’t sit still for a second, climbing over walls. All in matter of few seconds of the video.

    Now, even our walk is boring. I sometimes secretly hope to have kids soon, so I have an excuse to act like a kid and play with them. We all want to have fun, but are just too embarrassed to admit and act it out. We try to find a sport to do all those. And when our company organizes these kid games for team building – we happily participate and let the child out.

    But these instances are just so few, and soon the spark dies! Who the hell decided that all adults should..well behave like an ‘adult’

    As kids we loved and looked forward to the mandatory games period (I think twice in a week) and when it came, we just went bizerk, like birds out of a cage.

    I think we should have a mandatory games period everyday, where not just you, but everyone around must play!

  5. PJ Reece says:

    Keshav… keep up that yearning… because that’s what’s going to ensure that you do indeed find your way back to kidhood. And from someone who’s been there and done that… raising a kid was without doubt the most playful time of my life.

  6. M.E. Anders says:

    I’m discovering that the older I get, the more like a child I am becoming in my creativity. As a biological kid, I was always called “the little adult” because of my grave approach to life (growing up in a religious cult). Now that I am free, each day is another opportunity to romp in playground of my own mind and the outside world.

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