Toy Story, Like a Hen Gathereth Chicks

January 7, 2011 | no comments

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:


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. Fun film, but no consistent meaning underneath.

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