As promised, this begins The Pixar Project, where I’m going to review all of the Pixar films in the run-up to the Dec. 25 release of Soul. If you know a friend or relative or Pixar aficionado who’d enjoy this project, please pass it along.
Toy Story 3 is one of my favorites, and after rewatching all of the Toy Stories very close to each other, it’s clear it’s different from the first two. Not in style, since the same things that wowed audiences throughout the first two installments are here — clever world-building, hilarious characters, multi-layered jokes, heartwarming moments of friendship, the bread and butter of Toy Story.
What’s different is the open differences between the toys, like a precursor to Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, but instead of the Avengers it’s Andy’s room.
Woody, though he’s shown tendencies toward paternalism by his overwhelming loyalty to Andy, is a father figure, or at least attempting to be one, more in this film than any other to this point. He is on his own when he argues for blind loyalty to Andy. When they’re being led around Sunnyside, Woody concedes the place looks nice, but that’s not enough to deter him.
Woody: I have a kid. You have a kid. Andy! And if he wants us at college, or in the attic, well, then, our job is to be there for him.
This is noble and totally in keeping with the Woody we’ve come to know throughout the first two films, but the added level of Andy’s impending departure for college ups the urgency of Woody’s pleas to the group. In their defense, Andy has said some hateful words about them, calling them junk as he spouts off at his mom in a huff. The most logical conclusion for why they feel like they do is the inherent difference in level of importance to Andy. Woody has always been a favorite, and when the move to college rolled around, it was commonly accepted that Woody would be the only one going along with Andy. What happened to the rest of the gang was up in the air.
The gang, seemingly to the very last one of them, has adopted a utilitarian point of view, letting their collective decision on the future be guided by a simple calculus: Where will we be played with most? Where can we avoid this painful reality of kids getting older and leaving us behind? This is a natural reaction for toys, and there are hints of this debate in Toy Story 2 when Woody is considering his return to Andy and Jessie and the Woody’s Roundup gang wants to go Japan to be celebrated in a museum.
When Buzz refuses to leave the group to follow Woody home, Buzz says, “Our mission with Andy is complete.” And he follows it up with perhaps the only other competing philosophy at play: The toys are a community (and lifeforms) unto themselves; their animated lives when the humans aren’t around are (and should be) the controlling considerations. “And what’s important now is that we stay together,” Buzz tells Woody.
Bubbling under the surface of these philosophical debates is a slight hint of Orwell’s Animal Farm, if the updated commandment read “All toys are equal, but some toys are more equal than others.” This plays out on two fronts, 1) the Woody vs. everybody else debate and 2) Sunnyside under the leadership of Lotso Huggin’ Bear.
In the first instance, Woody is outraged that everyone doesn’t inherently believe as he does, that their place is unquestionably with Andy no matter what that might mean. Woody doesn’t act from a place of malice or attempted manipulation of the toys; he simply considers himself as just another one of the toys. That point of view is arguable when one considers their animated lives, out of sight of the humans, but in the measure that matters to the toys — Andy’s (or any human’s) attention and affection — Woody has always been more equal than the others.
In the second instance, the Orwellian is less subtext and more text. The discarded, rejected toys like Lotso’s lot are a complicated bunch when it comes to the toys, because they still seem to care about being played with by children, but they are colder and more cynical. They seem to value their animated existence, the non-human times, more explicitly, as revealed when the group gambles and assesses all of Andy’s toys. Their assessments are calculated and exploitive; Andy’s toys are just useful props to prevent them from being played with so violently by the toddlers. When Buzz complains to Lotso about the toddlers and how he and the others have been placed in the wrong room, Lotso employs Orwellian logic to justify the decision.
Buzz: But my friends don’t belong there.
Lotso: Oh, none of us do, I agree. Which is why, for the good of the community, we ask the new toys, the stronger ones, to take on the hardships the rest of us can’t bear anymore.
A somewhat confusing lapse in the story pertains to that first bit of Animal Farm-ness of Woody’s elevated position and the rationale for the Marvel Civil War-like opposing viewpoints. Just before Lotso is revealed for what he truly is, Mrs. Potato Head, still missing an eye, can suddenly see from that eye, which is still in Andy’s room. She sees him getting upset, looking around for all of the toys and not being able to find them. She relays this to the toys, and on a dime they flip their point of view. Andy is now suddenly worthy of their loyalty again, which is totally understandable if their only complaint had been how he called them junk, essentially having only hurt their feelings. But their desire to stay at Sunnyside was more philosophical than that, more to their true purpose as a toy.
Jessie: We can have a whole new life here, Woody. A chance to make kids happy again.
Despite this mindset being held widely by all of the toys, Mrs. Potato Head’s visions now have them 100% in favor of returning to Andy’s for the explicit purpose to be placed in the attic.
Lotso, unlike Woody’s truly egalitarian viewpoint, is actively manipulating Andy’s toys from a position of supposed superiority. The Animal Farm-ness of the situation becomes apparent after Lotso is exposed, and the group rallies against this point of view. But it’s less clear why they would listen to Woody, Mr. More Equal Than Other Toys, or adopt his way of thinking when they’d found it so unconvincing earlier.
The film is satisfying because of its complete and total rejection of the Orwellian. Lotso is defeated, after an escape plan with as many moving parts as a scheme dreamed up by Danny Ocean and his merry band of eleven. Woody gets the toys back to Andy, and right before they’re placed in the attic, Woody writes a note to suggest they be donated to Bonnie.
The ending leaves room for questioning Woody’s motivation. As Andy exists his car, which is loaded down with boxes and all his worldly possessions, the camera lingers on the box from his room, labeled “College,” where we’re to assume Woody returned after he jotted the note that saved his friends from the attic. Andy has the sweet interaction with Bonnie, introducing her to all our old friends.
Then she looks in the box, which should be empty at this point, and there’s Woody, and of course she recognizes him. Andy is torn, but eventually lets Woody go, after saying what we already know he believed: Woody is the most special. The line he says is so gut-wrenching because it’s everything Woody’s been trying to prove he is.
Andy: The thing that makes Woody special is he’ll never give up on you. Ever. He’ll always be there for you, no matter what.
The question of how Woody came to be in the donation box — whether it was an accident or his own choice — takes on new weight after that line.
Did Woody end up in that box only because he’d had to go inanimate to avoid detection, and dropping where he stood resulted in him being in the wrong box? Was it all an accident, and Andy, confronted with disappointing a little kid, couldn’t be selfish enough to insist on keeping his toy? If so, Andy embodies selflessness and embraces the new beginnings that come with growing up.
Or did Woody want to go with his friends? Had he decided college wasn’t for him? If so, Andy’s kind words don’t seem so deserved, for it would appear that, in his own way, Woody had given up on him after all.
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