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.Peter Bradshaw there, whose review of Toy Story 3 praises it as in effect a film-length elaboration of Jessie's song.
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.
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.