The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“Toy Story 3″: a work of wonder

toy-story-3-1893.jpg A lot of people have asked me “So what did you think of ‘Toy Story 3’? Was it really that good?” Yes, it really was.  Really.   

But two things stand out. (Warning, spoilers ahead!)

The first struck me because I saw the movie on its opening weekend, on the day before Father’s Day, so it was hard for me not to notice a yawning hole in the movie’s middle. Put bluntly:  there are no fathers. The entire “Toy Story” franchise, in fact, unfolds in a world without dads. Andy, the little boy who becomes a young man over the course of the series, owns the menagerie of toys, and it’s clear that he’s being raised by his mother. The moviemakers never explain why – and, in fact, the incomplete family itself fades into the background as the toys take over the story. Could this be one reason Andy becomes so attached to Woody and Buzz? Are they (at least in his imagination) surrogate dads – pint-sized role models of courage, honor and integrity? Manhood in miniature? I have to wonder.


And wonder, actually, is what brings me to the second thing. Because at bottom, “Toy Story 3″  is really about wonder — specifically, the wonder of storytelling.

Near the end of the film, Andy finds a shy little girl who inherits his beloved toys -and the scene where he introduces her to them is enough to make strong men weep. (Pardon me, while I blow my nose.  Sniff.) In that moment, Andy has discovered a kindred spirit: another kid without a dad, but one, like him, with a crazy and extravagant imagination — the kind of imagination that will find new adventures for the toys, with new stories to tell.  
The movie that begins with an elaborate sequence inside Andy’s imagination ends on a note of sweet expectation. You can’t escape the hopeful feeling that there are many more Toy Stories waiting to be told, as long as there are children to love the toys, and keep them going. (An aside: There’s also a hint that the greatest story, and greatest adventure of all, is life itself.  I loved that the last shot of “TS3 “is the first shot of the original film: a blue sky dotted by clouds. But in the first film, it’s a sky painted on Andy’s bedroom wall. Here, it’s the real sky of the real world – or, at least, Pixar’s real world — suggesting limitless adventures out there that are awaiting the little boy who grew up, and moved on.)


In a way, the TS franchise is all about the joy of storytelling, and the magic of myth-making. The wizards of Pixar have managed to create a plausible world of plastic and felt and tin, and made it come exuberantly to life. This is no small thing. Not only that, but they have done all this in the service of something truly beautiful and, even, sacred: the celebration of child-like wonder. Nurturing that wonder, the movies suggest, helps to ensure that more stories will be told.    

And that may be the most heartfelt achievement of the “Toy Story” films. The TS franchise has reminded us of something easily taken for granted — the power of imagination and whimsy and play. It’s a power that every five-year-old with a plastic doll appreciates.

Thank God, the good people at Pixar appreciate it, too.

Comments read comments(11)
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Mike L

posted June 20, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Wow, what a beautiful review and wonderful outlook, you have deacon. Been a long time since I have gone to a movie, but maybe it is time to see one. Seems like most of us leave the wonder and imagination of childhood behind. I think this is sad and condemns many of us to a lackluster life of discontent.
Thanks for pointing this movie out to us, and I will bring a full box of tissues with me :).
Mike L

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posted June 21, 2010 at 12:35 am

My Husband and I went to see an early matinee of Toy Story 3 today and we both laughed hard and shed some tears in the scene you mention. What was particularly fun was seeing it with a bunch of children. They really loved Mr. Potatohead’s floppy alternative body.
We told a friend we had dinner with tonight that it was as wonderful and magical as the original Toy Story – which one can rarely say for sequels.

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colion margerita

posted June 21, 2010 at 12:47 am

we did expect this movie to be more than a animation and it does as the many fans are rush on to see it movie makes out standing reach for earning and it becomes at the top of two earning ever for animation at the opening. guys the movie was out standing and interesting to see.

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posted June 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

This was the first time we’ve been able to take our son with autism (he’s 8)to a movie. He kept requesting to see this movie for months! He really enjoyed the movie very much and sat through it with little problem, just a couple of bathroom breaks. No fingers in the ears! He laughed and squealed at the antics of the characters, which was a wonderful thing to watch. The movie’s ending was even better than I thought it might be, too. Your uplifting post here made me want to share our joy and experience of Toy Story 3 too.

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posted June 23, 2010 at 1:51 am

I may be wrong, because I wasn’t paying much attention to it, but it seemed that in the final scene as Andy is passing the toys on to Bonnie, not only is Bonnie’s mother working in the yard in the background but also (who I assumed was) her father.
Again, the thought of Bonnie’s parents wasn’t the main thing on my mind, so I’m not certain I saw what I think I saw. Did anyone else notice the background characters in that particular scene?

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Nell Minow

posted June 24, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I loved your point about returning to and expanding on the symbolism of the sky. Beautiful.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 3:31 am

I never really question the movie without the dad. There are lots of children that don’t have have one parent around 24/7. It is nice to see a movie show it, without making the story around it. Kids are smart and will pick up on that.

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The Leaping Lamp

posted August 7, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Really thoughtful blog post, and it did leave the viewer with hope. Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be negative; just takes some getting used to sometimes.
Fatherless kids in Pixar films: It occurred in the Up movie, too. Russell eludes this to Mr. Fredricksen as they’re sitting together during a rainy night. I hope future Pixar films show a real father, not just a father figure substituting a for a missing parent.

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posted September 7, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I agree. I’ve seen several films where there is an absence of father or Mother. I really didn’t think about that way. But now that you say that I’m thinking of Snow White, and Sleep Beauty. I’m sure there are others.

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