Toy Story 3 On Family and the Meaning Of Life

I finally saw Toy Story 3 this afternoon, and was incredibly heartened the whole time by it, not least by the fact that the most compelling, original, emotional, profound movie to come out of Hollywood this year was, once again, a cartoon. 

Where friendship has been the signature theme of this series (made most clear in Randy Newman’s theme song, “You’ve Got a Friend In Me”), this entry plumbs the relatively-uncharted depths of that territory far deeper–this is the best movie about family since The Incredibles

As the film starts, there’s a separation crisis as Andy grows up and prepares to leave behind his beloved childhood toys.  The toys are anxious, and the film has some terrifically realistic back and forth feelings from the toys about loyalty in the face of seeming abandonment.  Woody, our hero, is steadfast in his belief: they have a responsibility to Andy, and if he wants them boxed up in the attic, then that’s where they should be.  In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse. 

But the best commentary on the subject comes from the villain, Lotso.  When he’s introducing the toys to the day care center (a family oriented subject all in itself, which is blessedly portrayed in an ambivalent light), he amazes them with the wonders of a revolving door of kids with whom to share brief encounters of playing, in a never-ending cycle of casual pleasure.  The icing on this cake is his grand pronouncement that, “No owners means no heartbreak.”  Get what this symbolizes?  The toys, tired of the emotional strain of commitment and loss, welcome the opportunity to indulge in a fantasy playland of, for lack of a better parallel, free love.  Sure, the relationships are shallow, but there are no painful risks involved. 

Lotso is the anti-Woody, who is dedicated to sticking it out in his relationship with Andy, regardless the work involved in maintaining it. 

And if Lotso sounds like a happy-go-lucky man-child from Jersey Shore, then wait until we see the hopeless rage that underlies his philosophy.  In a confrontation later in the film, when Woody defiantly risks all to get back to Andy with his friends, Lotso tries to convince him, “Do you think you’re special, Cowboy?  You’re a piece of plastic!  You were made to be thrown away!” 

Such is the angry despair that gives birth to the wild life of the irresponsible.  Lotso’s hedonism is nothing more than empty nihilism, after all.  For him, having transient play partners is the way to live because life has no meaning, anyway: we’re all just garbage waiting to die. 

Lotso may be the most tragic character since Lear. 

(Incidentally, I think the writer may have missed a great opportunity for Lotso.  His anger stems from being replaced after he was lost.  Instead of remaining hurt because he finds this to be evidence of love’s weakness, he could have learned later on that the little girl tried to replace him because she loved him so much, she couldn’t stand being without him.  Talk about emotionally complex!  Daisy could have entered Toy Story’s neurotic fray, and Lotso could have started on the path to redemption.)

In the end, Woody and his friends reject the day care center and the box, in favor of a new long-term relationship with a single partner.  As Andy passes on (to a new stage of life), the toys choose to enjoy the real, lasting satisfaction of developing a permanent bond with one child.  The circle of life continues with a new, monogamous family. 

Because that’s the way it’s meant to be.


2 comments on “Toy Story 3 On Family and the Meaning Of Life

  1. Pingback: Toy Story, Like a Hen Gathereth Chicks, | Junior Ganymede

  2. Pingback: Toy Story, Like a Hen Gathereth Chicks | Times & Seasons

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