Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toy Story 3 [REVIEW]

Articulations of desire and loyalty - by Nick van der Leek

The folks at Pixar have produced another triumph in Toy Story 3, let's get that out of the way right off the bat.  It is the storytelling that brings us the wonderful genuine, warmly imaginative adventures that is every Toy Story episode.
John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich are the men behind Toy 3, and they emphasise many values, many qualities that are so important to so many of us.  The title of this review provides a glimpse of those qualities, but really, the quality we value most of all from those around us, is loyalty.

In AO Scott's review he mentions the word a single time, but it needs a better airing than that.  Loyalty is vital for social animals.  It allows us all to have a place in a community in a general sense, and it also gives us our place in terms of families and partners.  If you want to interfere with the cohesiveness of families, if you want to disrupt the nuclear family, mess up their sense of loyalty, try to convince them that loyalty cards and loyalty to your soda or car brand is more important to their sense of identity and social esteem than their loyalty to one another.

And of course, our desire for things is real.  We all know, when it comes down to it, that our desire for love, and hope, and a sense of belonging easily eclipse our selfish and fleeting obsessions over flashy toothbrushes and shiny Rolex watches.  But we're fools for flattery, easy victims of vanity, we're suckers for the easy laziness of television soapies, the advertising jingles, and ego stroking of advertisements. 

“Toy Story 3” is as sweet, as touching, as humane a movie as you are likely to see this summer, and yet it is all about doodads stamped and molded out of plastic and polyester.
Therein lies its genius, and its uncanny authenticity. A tale that captured the romance and pathos of the consumer economy, the sorrows and pleasures that dwell at the heart of our materialist way of life, could only be told from the standpoint of the commodities themselves, those accretions of synthetic substance and alienated labor we somehow endow with souls. - AO Scott

Without getting into the mechanics of the plot too much, I'd like to share with you some of what touched me in this flick.  Lasseter is a master at finding the deepest and most valuable human qualities and representing these in fresh, authentic veneers.  Toy Story makes us imagine, it also takes us back to our own childhoods, in a way that is unexpectedly poignant.  It invokes those potent memories we associate with our first possessions, those first steps towards painful independence, those delightful scenarios we created out of thin air and plastic and fluff.

But going even deeper, Lasseter probes a different dimension to the first two flicks.  If the first was about identity, and belonging,and birth, the second was about loving, and loyalty, and courage.  The third completes the circle, it is darker but simultaneously no less bright, it is about death and rebirth, letting go and moving on.  But the crucial ingredient that binds all three episodes is loyalty, epitomised in Tom Hanks' flappy [but inwardly unflappable] cowboy, Woody. 

WIKI: The concept of loyalty is an important part of ethics. Plato originally said that only a man who is just can be loyal, and that loyalty is a condition of genuine philosophy. The philosopher Josiah Royce said it was the supreme moral good, and that one's devotion to an object mattered more than the merits of the object itself. Loyalty is a quality one should look for in a friend.

Toy 3 also probes other symptoms of our sick society, such as our throwaway culture, our distractedness, our tendency to manipulate and enslave others for our own benefit.  The use of the garbage heap illustrates the end result for this capacity to treat others as 'disposable'.  We may think we can dispose of one another to protect our materialistic-inspired sense of putting our painful memories into a box and burying them in the attic, or simply throwing our connection to the past into the garbage.  We may delete or block or unfriend digital representations of people, but this only devalues the experience of being human and diminshes the importance a community should have in human intercourse. 

Continuity is something that goes hand in hand with loyalty.  We remember things, we treasure them, and in the same way, we remember each other, and value each other.  We remember the history of ourselves and of things, and others remember our history for us, or with them.  What is broken is repaired, what is old is renewed, what is discarded is dusted off and brought back into the living room of life. We are connected to each other, to the world, to ourselves.  These connections remind us who we are, what we are here for, and what our functions are.  They inspire us to live every day in a more connected and more vital sense, because we live beyond ourselves.

Toy 3 made me think of some of the toys I used to play with.  Lego, and matchbox cars, and scalextric, the kites, the balsa wood windup planes, the puzzles, the hundreds of Enid Blyton books and pencil sketches. Where are they today?  And to what extent did they inform the rich fabric that was my childhood.  Undoubtedly all those ingredients need to be alive in our adult experience too.  We need to bring our inner child into the adult experience, and this can only happen if we remember to be make space for imaginative, creative, inspired, exhilarated - sometimes baby-steps-careful, sometimes jubilant-carefree-and-joyful - living. And if we remember to be loyal to ourselves and those close to us, if we maintain the capacity to keep our connections to each other rather than forsake them for material possessions, then we can breathe meaning back into the deep dark lungs of our lives. 

Loyalty allows us to value ourselves and others.  Never giving up on someone else provides us with reason to pursue life with the sort of passion that transcends ordinary survival, ordinary existence.  Of course if our focus is on stuff, we strip our own lives of meaning, we empty out the chest and defile the meaning that is in living.  When we played with our toys we saw in them ourselves, engaging with a world that played along, and that is no mere fantasy, if we can see beyond ourselves.

On another note, I found it striking that Woody's world and the scenario of all the other toys is a paradise like setting called suburbia.  It's a place with families and children, and it cannot operate without cars and gardens and houses filled with stuff.  I know this isn't the core of the story, but I think in a decade or two, or even less, the scenario of Toy Story may seem ironic, or even jar a little.  Because this world which has peak everything - peak music, peak choices, peak distractions, is about to give way to something less, a place where our connections to each other, and the earth, and our loyalty to one another, will be more important than ever.

Rating: 9/10


Carl Nyberg said...

I saw Toy Story 3 as being about the plight of workers displaced by the new economy. See

Anonymous said...

Very nice review. There was a lesson on learning how to let go at the end of the movie as well when Andy decides to leave the toys at the little girls house. Although Andy seemed reluctant to give his toys away at first he still proceeded to do so and in the end he acted in the toys best interest and not his own, an act that is an epitome of loyalty. This was a very well done and thought/emotion-provoking movie. Again, I agree with your review. Good job!