Friday, 6 August 2010

Lee Unkrich (dir), Toy Story 3 (2010)


This film was, as I had been led to believe, simply superb. Also it was, as the critics said, only trivially about kids playing with toys. It's about the fleeting blisses and inevitable grand loss of parenthood:
This is the time to return to the endlessly fascinating subject of crying in cinemas, because TS2 contains what for me is the most lethally tear-jerking moment in any film: it is Randy Newman's song 'When She Loved Me', performed by the cowgirl toy Jessie, remembering how her owner forgot about her as she grew into her girly-teenage years.
...

Watching 'When She Loved Me' from Toy Story 2 again now, as a father of a young child, was even more devastating. It gave me what I can only describe as an intense personal epiphany, a sense that I was understanding the terrible truth about that song for the first time. When I first saw it in 2000, I had no children. Re-reading that review I see that I thought that "Toy Story 2 conjures a brilliant dilemma out of nowhere, making the toys' dependent relationship with children a disturbing analogy to children's fearful relationship with adults. It enacts the child's deepest fear of abandonment, weakness and vulnerability". Well, that's what I thought at the time: that Jessie's song was about the child afraid of being abandoned by the adult.

Now, as a parent, the truth has hit me full in the face. I got it the wrong way around. Jessie's song is about the adult's fear of being abandoned by the child. Your kids will play happily with you while they are babies and toddlers, but they grow up. They don't want to play and be cuddled. They will change and outgrow you. Of course, your relationship with your children has to change; as they become adults it becomes more rewarding. But never again will it have that complete innocent playfulness, and a part of you will wind up, like cowgirl Jessie, left under the child's bed, forgotten.
Peter Bradshaw there, whose review of Toy Story 3 praises it as in effect a film-length elaboration of Jessie's song.

True, that. But something else struck me, and it began with a question: at the end of TS3 the toys are all gifted to a sweet little girl, who will actually play with them. What race is that girl? Bonnie is her name, and of course her race doesn't matter -- except that the Toy Story franchise as a whole is all about the ownership of sentient, intelligent, feeling creatures, and the way the owners, advertently or inadvertently, hurt them. It is, in a word, about slavery. Woodie, with his owner's name indelibly marked upon his foot, like a brand, loves his condition as a slave: freed he strives to return to it. But it is still slavery, and much of the emotional punch of the three films derives from the horrible passivity of the slave's lot. So, this exaggeratedly white-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed Andy, all grown up, passes his slaves over to ... what? A Mexican child? A light-skinned Black girl? The toys, it is clear, will be very happy; much happier than in any of the other three options the film presents us with: stored away for posterity in 'the attic', incinerated at 'the dump', or mauled over thoughtlessly at the 'daycare centre.' All of this, it seems to me, is in some sense 'about' the elephant-in-the-room of American cultural history, the slavery 'issue'. What to do about it? Embalm it in 'attic' museums? Attempt to eradicate all knowledge of it at the incinerator? Bash it about, distort it and damage it at the hands of a younger generation that is blithely unaware of its profound emotional importance? Or -- and this is where the film seems to be going -- reverentially hand it over to a person of colour. Say to them: you have ownership of this, now.

Bradshaw is right, I think. And one of the interesting implications of that way of reading it is to understand that we parents are, in many ways, precisely the slaves of our blithely unwitting children; in more than a manner-of-speech sense.

This is a great film. You must see it.

25 comments:

Niall Harrison said...

Hmm. I'm not sure how well your reading holds up. For one thing, if that is the issue being handed over, so is the condition of being a slave-owner, not just a slavery-owner; and handed from a rapidly maturing white person to an immature POC at that. For another thing, by the end of the film, in the background, the daycare centre has changed -- it has become the egalitarian shared toy society it always promised to be, no longer rife with age-inappropriate use. As a friend pointed out, it's a little galling that this is still not seen as good enough for our heroes; they deserve better! They deserve to be owned.

Adam Roberts said...

Is Bonny a POC, though? I honestly couldn't tell.

You're right: what happens at the Daycare centre at the end is interesting: as if the abuse of the toys wasn't a function of their careless 'owners' (though it surely looks like that earlier on), but is a consequence of the bad, resentful leadership of a wicked toy.

Niall Harrison said...

I certainly read her that way. Can't find anything confirmatory one way or the other with a cursory google.

I thought what was happening at Sunnyside was that Lotso was setting up a situation where toys were abused by ensuring that newbies (and presumably the badly behaved) are locked in with children who are too young to play with them properly. I assumed that what happens at the end is that only age-appropriate toys (whith from what we see don't seem to be sentient -- cf the shaped blocks Buzz is used as a hammer for, and the paint) are in the caterpillar room.

家唐銘 said...

Cheek brings success.............................................................

Eric M. Edwards said...

Puzzling to find that this movie is so loved in normally gimlet-eyed Punkadiddle land. I'm not blaming you for this divergence of opinion from my own, but I find it, as I think about the movie and your review at length, interesting.

I'm a father with two small children, ages 2 and 4. We've seen all the Toy Story movies - which in fairness I should point out, I've never liked. Not a bit. With the exception of the very first in the franchise, I've found them to be saccharine, mawkish, and filled to the brim with a message that I don't believe is healthy to pass on to anyone's children, let alone my own. So there you have it, I'm not exactly a fan.

The very sound of Randy Newman's voice singing the theme track of "You've Got A Friend In Me" is enough to chill the blood. If I was ever forced to don an orange jumpsuit and spend some holiday time at a certain US naval base in Cuba that need not speak its name - this would be the music my interrogators would play as they tasered me in the genitals and soaked my eyeless hood in my own urine.

That caveat aside, I still believe that TS3 represents the apogee of my dislike for this franchise. At least I hope - this hope set against the certain knowledge that they'll never end so long as a single cent can be wrung out of this tired "story" and the relentless marketing of its toy characters - it might be.

Eric

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

this hope set against the certain knowledge that they'll never end so long as a single cent can be wrung out of this tired "story" and the relentless marketing of its toy characters - it might be.

Not at all true. You may not like the series, but the fact remains that Pixar has a great deal of integrity, and it is absolutely clear that TS3 is the last installment of a trilogy. I would bet you any sum of money in the world that the story is done now.

Adam Roberts said...

There's a very interesting question here, isn't there, Eric: what criterion grounds a discussion of sensibility? One person's moving is another's mawkish, after all: the death of little Nell wrings tears from the heart of one Victorian, and makes another scoff. It is possible that my becoming a father has turned my critical faculties to mush; but I can only report that this film actually moved me -- and add, moreover, that I am rarely moved. The whole franchise strikes me as inventive and witty as well as touching; though I understand where you're coming from with your dislike.

halojones-fan said...

"With the exception of the very first in the franchise, I've found them to be saccharine, mawkish, and filled to the brim with a message that I don't believe is healthy to pass on to anyone's children, let alone my own."

...and this message is?

******

Adam, I'd be more onboard with you if the toys were some kind of free-range wild creatures who'd been captured and put into bondage.

If anything, the toys are more like dogs than slaves. And yes, I know that there are people who consider pet ownership to be slavery--and that there were plenty of slaves who got all Stockholm Syndrome about their plight. But you're doing the same thing that amateur readers in history and religion often do to ancient cultures--you're looking at facts through an inappropriately modern context and coming to incorrect conclusions. Saying that the toys are "like slaves" ignores the fact that the toys in Toy Story achieve self-actualization through the act of being played with by humans.

*****

And, incidentally, it's pretty goddamn funny that the internet has become so self-flagellatory over the racism issue that a character is seen as non-white because she isn't a pink-cheeked, blue-eyed, blonde-haired Aryan ideal. Fucking come on, here, people, is this really where fifty years of fighting over civil rights has left us?

Jamie said...

Not at all true. You may not like the series, but the fact remains that Pixar has a great deal of integrity, and it is absolutely clear that TS3 is the last installment of a trilogy. I would bet you any sum of money in the world that the story is done now.

Not to mention the fact that they waited 11 years between parts two and three. Compared to four Shrek films in nine years I don't think anyone can accuse Pixar of flogging a dead horse.

Eric M. Edwards said...

@Adam Roberts

Absolutely. I would be hard pressed to say what exactly, down to the last pixel, makes me constitutionally hostile to Toy Story (and for the record, you're right, I absolutely can't stand little Nell or her father for that matter).

But it does. Be it Tom Hanks, the charmless human voice actors with their creepy big, and strangely smooth heads - or as I've said, that whiff of self-satisfied Middle American bonhomie that saturates the scenes.

What tugs on our emotions, especially as parents, is very much an individual thing. I found The Road by Cormac McCarthy for example hard to bear at times, as I read it with my young son asleep in my lap.

@halojones-fan

It's not a message which is exactly unique to TS I'll admit: that consumerism is king and private toy ownership is the jewel in its crown. I find this most distilled in the latest movie.

It is, I feel, a movie for the Soccer-moms (and dads) in all of us.

Unfortunately, it seems most aimed towards those internal mothers who have risen up the consumeristic food chain. Toys for day-care, or blush, charity shops? Never - that smacks of socialism of course. Private toy ownership for all the good (upper) middle class boys and girls must prevail. Sunnyside even has its stylized Uncle Joe in the form of Lotso, who cruelly collectivizes the toys and rules from the head of a brutally corrupt central elite. The drooling offspring of the unwashed, lower class proles are posited as the invading hordes against which the "white knights" from Andy's toybox must be saved. Sunnyside was never going to be egalitarian. The rich have nannies, of course.

The only way out of this socialistic hell is to either escape over the Berlinesque wall or else be smuggled out in the arms of a dubiously coffee-coloured girl who is the daughter of one of the proletariats co-opted into the "boss class" - i.e. the receptionist's daughter Bonnie. Note, none of the star toys except feminine, marginal Barbie, is ever going to be happy outside of the manse of private toy ownership it seems and even for her, it takes a marriage of another sort.

Of course you are free to say I'm reading far too much into a child's story but I think the rot starts early. And, it is no more far-fetched the ideas Adam has brought up about slavery.

Interesting stuff, mine aside.

Eric

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Eric M. Edwards said...

Hm. This happened before. The comment window doesn't like my long-winded posts and tells me an error has occurred. Then I get for some reason multiple posts.

Sorry Adam. It must be a sign from the gods to keep my mouth shut on your blog (or at least to learn how to be succinct).

halojones-fan said...

"It's not a message which is exactly unique to TS I'll admit: that consumerism is king and private toy ownership is the jewel in its crown. I find this most distilled in the latest movie."

You mean Toy Story 3, where the end credits start with a ten-foot-tall "DONATE" bouncing up and down for ten seconds?

Toy Story 3, where the big end sequence is a young man giving his favorite childhood toys to a little girl?

Toy Story 3, where the bad guy's heel turn is the result of the very "interchangeable consumer product" mindset you find so distasteful?

Toy Story 3, the final installment in a trilogy whose major theme is "toys are real living beings which have feelings and hopes and dreams, and it's bad to mistreat them or discard them"?

I...really don't know what I can say if you've missed the point that badly.

"Of course you are free to say I'm reading far too much into a child's story but I think the rot starts early."

You must have had an absolute ball during Racefail.

Eric M. Edwards said...

@halojones-fan

A few quick rejoinders to your comments:

Kids. Don't. Read. End. Credits. A ten second plaster slapped on one hour and forty two minutes of consumeristic excess, would be the second problem with your argument. Each to their own, though.

Eleventh hour donation to an individual child clearly shows the favouring of private ownership over communal. Not to mention the whole thing is the result of a mistake. He certainly wasn't planning on doing so.

No such thing in sight at my viewing. I'm not sure what you're going on about here. Perhaps you were viewing a special screening that I missed out on. Obviously we differ on this point, and all the others.

Mistreat of course being right up there with being senting to a communal use/day care/gulag.

If you don't know what to say, sometimes you're better off saying nothing I suppose. But when has that stopped anyone online?

Finally, "Racefail?" Is that a word? I don't know what you're referring to in this case, perhaps you'd care to expand on your thoughts. I don't know if you're speaking about perceived POC or some sort of Hotwheels rally gone wrong.

Eric

Eric M. Edwards said...

ed. "sent" not "senting"

halojones-fan said...

"Kids. Don't. Read. End. Credits."

I'm talking about the post-credit epilog sequences which started immediately after the movie ended and capped off a number of story elements. You did watch that, right? It's not like there was some huge five-minute gap in there.

"Not to mention the whole [donation to Bonnie] thing is the result of a mistake. He certainly wasn't planning on doing so."

Yeah, and when he decided to do it, he turned out a lot happier. Are you suggesting that a story's moral message cannot be communicated via serendipitous revelation to the characters in the story? You're saying that the characters must be virtuous and pure of thought during the whole thing? I admire your revolutionary zeal, zampolit Edwards.

"Mistreat of course being right up there with being senting to a communal use/day care/gulag."

Again, this is covered in the post-credit epilogue sequence, where we see the toys moved into age-appropriate play areas (except for the action figures, who voluntarily hang out in the toddlers' room and get beat up as a kind of extreme sport.)

None of the toys seemed hugely upset about the concept of being in a day care; it was the whole "smashed and wrecked" thing that was presented as wrong and bad.

Honestly, did you watch the whole movie?

"Finally, "Racefail?" Is that a word?"

Hi, I'm the world outside Eric Edwards's head. Try learning about me sometime, it's a fascinating experience. Indeed, I think you'll find many kindred spirits.

Eric M. Edwards said...

I know I shouldn't feed you, halojones-fan, but it's amusing to watch you caper about after midnight. I think I've seen you somewhere else before. I can't recall exactly where, but you had a very similar vibe there too.

Anyway, back to discussing a movie I loathe yet have been tricked into commenting on for more time than it likely took for me to sit through it in the first place. Damn you Punkadiddle! Ah well. You were talking about the "the end credits start with a ten-foot-tall "DONATE" bouncing up and down for ten seconds?" You should know that too, considering they're your own words. If you *were* talking about something else but using that silent voice inside you head, don't blame others for not hearing it as well.

Glad you like my zeal. You should try my zest next time.

I think you're skirting the issue: cherished possessions are happier/and the previous owner happier, to be placed/see placed in the hands of a private owner, rather then the day care/communal repository.

Again I see the reformation of the day care centre, not perhaps so far as a privatization/liberation movement, as not weighing in as heavily as the original negative message of its portrayal. Considering how much the production team stressed that this was a prison theme, I wonder how this plays out in the end? Have the prisoners rebelled, and taken over the jail, are they their own wardens now?

I don't see this being covered by anything, other than your continued "zest" for arguing about it. I don't see this much going anywhere either, but like I said, you seem to like late night snacks.

I detest this use of the world fail as a noun. Come on, is tacking on three more letters so much to ask? Simply because I've noticed it here and on Twitter once or twice, likewise is no reason for me to go seek it out. Honestly, I have no idea what you're on about here, even after reading the previous comments regarding the slavery metaphor. And actually as for seeking it out, I did, I asked you a rather direct question regarding what you were talking about. Is that the world inside my head? If it was inside, I'd know the answer already. Are you unable to explain something so simple or are you just being trollish and refusing to do on some sort of strange principle?

There, have another. Eat up.

Cheers,

Eric

Eric M. Edwards said...

[Ed.]

Interesting.

I had honestly thought that your comment about "race failure" had something to do with the comments on persons of colour and slavery raised by our gracious host. Or something to do with some pivotal scene involving Hotwheel cars in TS3 that I missed while taking a piss. I can see now that it was something else entirely, sparked as far as I can tell based on a lazy search, by the live journal entry of a writer named Elizabeth Bear on the topic of "Writing the Other."

What a load of excremental scribbling this has, to all outward appearances, engendered on both (?) sides of the issue (issues? who can tell, really). I wish I could say I'm surprised and appalled to find the blogsphere such a nasty place, but that would be naive, not to mention disingenuous. There is a reason for my misanthropy: namely people.

Apparently, there is even a "mammoth failure" spat tangentially connected to this imbroglio, which gave me a chuckle. It focuses on another writer who used the likely human caused extinction of megafauna in pre-Colombian North America (or in this case, their non-extinction as humans never entered the continent until the arrival of Europeans) as a starting point for some sort of alternative history blend of frontier romance and magical fantasy without, one gets the sense, of using due diligence for all this would entail (not to mention factoring in people's emotional responses, misplaced or otherwise). But I suppose you, halojones-fan (can I just call you halo, or jones, or perhaps, fan? the whole thing is such a mouthful), being a person of the wider world, cocksure and jaded, already knew all about it.

So that's the world eh? I can't say I'm sorry I missed it.

Eric

halojones-fan said...

Dude, seriously, did it really take you five days to write all that word salad?

Actually, from the amount of thesarus-fucking you've shown, I bet it did.

I love it that you still keep complaining about "racefail". Google, man, it's not that hard. Even Internet Explorer has a Google search bar these days.

Eric M. Edwards said...

No Mr. Jones,

I simply wasn't bothering to obsessively check back on this thread for your pearls of wisdom. So sorry to have keep you waiting. Never fear, I'm a quick typist.

I'll use smaller words for you next time. I wasn't aware you had difficulty reading the larger ones.

You admission on this point does however, throw some light on your inability to follow along. It would have saved us all time if you just said you couldn't actually be arsed to read any of it.

Good day and happier blogging,

Eric

Eric M. Edwards said...

[ed.]

Jones,

I wanted to say that this has gotten increasingly silly and acrimonious.

I was interested in arguing my position, if you're not, that's fine. Just say so. I'm not however, interested in cluttering up our fine host's comment section any further - least of all with an exchange of petty insults.

You're always welcome to email me your comments, or find me on Twitter. I can't promise to think much of them from what I've seen so far, you make me seem down right warm and fuzzy, but I'll always give you the chance to express them at whatever length you see fit. Big words or short.

Ta

halojones-fan said...

Vocabulary does not erudition prove.