Thursday, July 08, 2010

Toy Story 3: Back in the Saddle... Again

It's a profoundly human characteristic to want to make things move, to breathe life into the matter about us - be it through paint, or wood, words, or marble. We humans love to create, just as our Father in Heaven created and still creates the world around us. Perhaps that explains our fascination with animated films. God makes us in His image out of love, and we as sub-creators create, or animate, things in our image because of love.

Of all of these animated works, and there are so many, I'd venture to say that none are more magical than the Toy Story series. Through the eyes of the stitched chunks of cloth and malleable plastic in Andy's toy chest, we're invited to see the world in a whole new light. These films seem to stitch generations together too, having something old and something new, much like Woody, the affable cowboy of yesteryear, and Buzz, the shiny space commander of the Future! That playful glance backwards and forwards may be a factor in what draws young and old to the silver screen each time. And let me say, the third time's a charm.

Toy Story 3 debuted this June and it brought back that lovable cast of characters we first met over 15 years ago! (I can't believe it's been 15 years either). Woody, the "favorite" toy of Andy, started the show back in 1995, rounding up a whole host of impressive characters with an equally impressive set of voices - Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Joan Cusack, and John Ratzenberger (who seems to get into every Pixar picture) to name just a few. Their sole purpose in "life" was to belong to Andy, to make him happy, to "be there for him" and the leader in this mission was always Woody.

There were always loads of laughs, exciting adventures, and subtle shout-outs to our pop-culture (remember the Jurassic Park tribute? The toy T-Rex is seen chasing after the gang in the rear view mirror of the Barbie convertible? Classic!) So often it seemed the adults got more laughs out of each film than the kids! This third installment dishes up much of the same wholesome fun, but this time there is a kind of sadness, a shadow, behind each pixel of this Pixar film.

Andy is all grown up, and preparing to leave the nest for college. The toys of his youth are tucked away in a dark chest that hasn't seen the light of day for who knows how long. It appears that a laptop computer and a cell phone are now the only things that engage the teenage Andy anymore. Curiously, his face throughout his cameo appearances has a weight to it, not the wonderstruck lightness that we remember. Isn't it interesting how his toys, which demanded more imagination to play with, brought joy, while the technology, which demands less imagination, brings him a kind of weariness?

Back to Woody and Company... Their fate, they discover, will ultimately be decided by their now come of age owner. Will their final adventure be the infamous Trash Truck, or the Yard Sale (akin to death as far as the toys are concerned)? Or will it be the Attic, a kind of purgatory, where they'll have the hope of one day returning to the Paradise of Playtime with Andy's future kids!


This very mature theme is balanced, of course, by lots of laughs at the toys quirky personalities that we've come to love. The Barbie meets Ken scenario is worth the price of admission, as well as the seedy late-night poker game, using Monopoly money, held by the sinister toys at the top of a vending machine. (How do they think this stuff up?!) In all of it, the balance between hilarity and heart-touching emotion is beautifully harmonized.

At the end of the day, though, this final piece of the Toy Story triptych displays a very sobering message about love, relationships, trust, and new beginnings. It's about being able to let go, for Andy, and for his toys! There we discover a profound lesson that's an echo of the Gospel itself (yes, I just equated the Gospel with a Pixar movie. This shouldn't surprise or scandalize us, by the way, or sound at all like a stretch. Every good story flows from Gospel themes, every myth and fairy tale is attracted to it and gets its attraction from it. Tolkien said the Gospel is the fairy tale that came true!)

The lesson is that in letting go of ourselves, in giving of ourselves, in being willing to actually "die to ourselves," we actually find ourselves, and discover ourselves anew! Watch the movie and see this transformation come over the characters in a beautiful light. And let yourself be reminded of the promise that living for others, not against, or in competition with them, is what brings real joy. And the promise that we too will live on... happily ever after!
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