OUTSIDE OUR COMFORT RANGE: “Toy Story 3” (No Spoilers)

Republibot 3.0
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At root, the Toy Story movies have always been about identity. The first one is about how you deal with life when you realize you’re not as important as you thought you were: Woodie is no longer Andy’s favorite toy; Buzz isn’t *really* an Astronaut Ranger. The second one is all about how you deal with life when you realize you’re *more* important than you thought you were. This one is all about becoming more than the sum of your parts, transcending your origins and your experiences, and becoming something quietly grand, and about the consequences of *not* being able to do so.

I’m not going to spoil any of it for you, but here’s what you’ve no doubt already gotten from the previews: Andy is heading off to college, and doesn’t want his old toys anymore. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. It’s the day they’ve feared since the first movie, the day that Jessie has already lived through once, it’s already claimed a number of them over the years, and now the end of their normal existence is at hand. They wrestle with their fate, and there’s a major mishap that they spend the bulk of the film trying to overcome, but that still doesn’t change the end they’re all heading to. The question then becomes not so much one of ‘how do we get out of this?’ but rather ‘How do I become something more than simply the external forces that are acting upon me?’ Do you simply react, or do you meekly resign yourself to it, or do you keep on knocking yourself out, tilting at windmills, changing clothes in dirty old phone booths and fighting crime, sailing beyond the sunset, knowing full well that it’s a fools errand, a temporary reprieve at best, mere chasing after the wind?

If you pick the latter option, then you become something independent of your fate. You can dodge that for as long as possible, but it *will* get you in the end, and yet if one can become more than the sum of their parts, even for an instant, then fate doesn’t matter so much. In that moment, you’re more alive than everyone else, grander, more noble, you cease to be creation and become a creator of a sort, and in those brief, numinous moments things like your past and your future and your life and your death are far less important than what you *are.* There are those people who insist on Carpe Diem, but I’ve always resisted that. It seems to vain to me, too vapid, and even selfish. In the end, I don’t think life has much to do with getting the most value out of every tick of the clock, I think it’s more about those rare moments - one or three in a lifetime - when we become suffused with the holy fire. That makes everything else worthwhile.

Of course cheating Death is always pretty good too, if you can pull that off. It’s gravy.

I mention all this Alfred Lord Tennyson “Ulysees” hogwash because there is one scene in the third act that is honestly one of the finest moments I’ve ever seen on film. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a kids film and animated at that, but if the purpose of a movie is to make us forget that it isn’t real, and involve us in the story, then that simply means a cartoon has to work harder to get to that point, which simply makes the accomplishment all the more remarkable. Seriously: in a lifetime of way too many movies, I’ve never seen anything quite like that, and thinking about it still gives me a lump in the throat. It’s worth seeing just for that. You’ll know it when you see it: it’s in the junkyard sequence.

I mention it also because Pixar has always put a lot of emotional subtext into their films, far more than really normal live-action movies do. Their characters generally live and breathe in a way that flesh and blood actors paradoxically don’t seem to, either on or off screen. Heroes have moments of weakness, the villains are usually somewhat sympathetic and conflicted, there’s a broad emotional palate, and true to form, this is a very, very emotional movie. Though there’s a lot of heartwarming and genuinely funny moments, the stakes are much higher here than they’ve ever been before, and even the funniest of scenes still carries some bittersweet within it. There were a lot of people - adults - openly sobbing in the theater.

Seriously: Thank God for Pixar. There isn’t another studio in America - live or animation - that could pull this kind of stuff off without it seeming cloying or stupid. There isn’t even another studio in America that would take this kind of a chance on giving a kiddie flick this level of emotional resonance. There’s not a studio that would be willing to trust their audience as much as Pixar does.

And after that transcendental moment in the junkyard, once the main characters become something more than mere playthings, they have a capacity for sacrifice that they never really had before. In fact, most of the characters end up taking one or more for the team. Everyone - even Andy and his mom - have these kinds of transitional moments.

Good movie, very strongly recommended.