A friend loves at all times,
and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Pixar veteran Lee Unkrich and scriptwriter Michael Arndt’s ( “Little Miss Sunshine” ) film is full of the magic that audiences crave. (Who said that a G-rated film would turn off audiences?) To the themes of imagination, friendship, loyalty, and adventure found in such abundance in the first two films, are added that of the necessity of growing older with a resulting anxiety about the future (expressed by the toys—remember, the toys come to life only when a human leaves their presence). Thus the conclusion of the trilogy is a far more complex and darker film than that of TS and TS 2. Let the parents of preschool children beware!
The film opens with an exciting adventure involving our familiar friends—cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles & Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), with Hamm (John Ratzenberger acting as villain of the moment—locked in a fierce battle involving a mushroom cloud of red monkeys. Then as we hear a woman’s voice calling, the battle abruptly ends, and we see this is another adventure conjured up by young Andy’s imagination as he plays with his favorite toys.
Jump ahead a few years, and Andy (voice of John Morris) has about a week before he’s off to college. What to do with his old toys? Andy decides to take Woody with him, but what about the others? His mother gives him 3 choices: Box them up for the attic; give them away to a day care center; or throw them into a bag for the trash men to pick up. What we get is all three. Woody manages to save his friends when they are accidentally put out for trash, and then they wind up at the Sunnydale Daycare Center, where a large stuffed bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) congenially welcomes them to their new home once the teachers and children go outside to play. His friends are delighted, but Woody feels uneasy about their new situation. He has to return to Andy and suggests that they leave with him. They decide to stay, and soon we learn that Andy had good reason to be suspicious. The new toys are put into the room of hyperactive kids who come close to tearing the toys apart, and they do dismember the Potato Heads.
That night they are told the rules, with Lotso each time saying that any rule violation will result in their having to “spend the night in the box.” I am sure the kids near me were wondering why some of us adult lovers of Cool Hand Luke were laughing, especially when one of our heroes broke in with “spend the night in the box” before the rules giver could finish his sentence.
Of course, when Woody finds out about the plight of his friends, he returns at night, and there ensues a prison escape that is as exciting as any of the “for real” prison/concentration camp escape films that I have seen. And then there is a suspenseful sequence when all of the friends are about to be shredded and burnt at a gigantic trash recycling plant that could lead to nightmares for preschoolers, so parents beware—see the film first before taking any young child to it. And don’t worry—this will not be a chore, so delightfully made is this little masterpiece. Any adult with an ounce of imagination will love seeing this film more than once.
I should also mention that new characters are introduced: Barbie Doll (Jodi Benson) joins our band of heroes, and at the daycare center, when she meets Ken (Michael Keaton), she asks, “Haven’t we met before?” Their romancing is funny as he takes her into his dollhouse and shows off his huge collection of fancy clothes. There is also the famous children’s Chatter Phone (Teddy Newton) who becomes an ally in the escape plan from the center. Mention also should be made of Buzz becoming rebooted so that he becomes a dancing, Spanish-speaking lover with eyes only for Jessie.
My favorite scene is the last one, which I will try not to spoil for you, but just say that it is full of nostalgia and good vibes as one generation passes on the magic of beloved toys to another. With the toys dealing with feelings of abandonment and anxiety about their future, and Andy, his feelings also very mixed as he leaves childhood behind and heads off toward adulthood, the filmmakers raise far deeper issues than the two earlier films. I do not see how they could have ended the trilogy any better.
1. With which of the many characters do you identify the most? Why?
2. Can you recall the times when your adventures with your toys were as real as the episode that begins the film? How is childhood indeed a magical time—at least for children of cultures with enough wealth and leisure to free children from the toil of poverty or dangers of war? A recent report on the effects of China’s long imposed “one child” policy notes that its parents now push their child so hard that there is no time for unsupervised activities, with “play” being devalued as wasted time. What do you think of this?
3. What has been your own experience with childhood toys? Were Mom’s three choices yours as well? There is a large number of adults who collect toys: what do you think motivates them, aside from speculation by some who are in the business for profit? (A couple of rare Barbie Doll items sold for multiple thousands of dollars at a recent Long Island-based toy auction!)
4. What do you think is the main theme of the film? How do the characters show friendship and loyalty throughout the story?
5. What references to other films did you see in the film? Do you think these are to keep the adults in the audience engaged?
6. How does Woody’s unease in regard to Lotso’s warm welcome show that things are not always as they seem? How do scammers use Lotso’s tactics to draw us in to their schemes? What do you think of the back-story for Lotso? How does his act at the recycling incinerator go against the usual plot line? How does it show that once a person settles into a dark lifestyle change for the better is unlikely?
7. What do the toys do as they approach their fiery doom? How is this an example of the solidarity of their loyalty to each other?
8. What do you think of the last scene? What does this reveal about the character of Andy. How is his playing with the little girl akin to Jesus’ statement about doing it to “one of the least of these” ? (Matt. 25:40) How is his leaving his toys like what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13, “I put an end to childish ways” ? And yet, do you think that Andy still retains “childlike” ways that will enrich his live ever after? (Important here to distinguish between “childish” and “childlike?)
Addendum: Like its other films, Pixar includes a short film with its feature, this time entitled Day & Night. How is this simple tale like the Ying and Yang of Taois; that is, how are they complementary to each other? How is harmony brought about between them? It is interesting to note that the director, Teddy Newton, provides the voice for the Chatter Telephone in the feature film.