Movie: Toy Story 3 – Some Assembly Required

Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3 is an extremely mixed movie, offering a very touching closing scene, but is preceded by what is mostly a horror movie and may be inappropriate for children.

In this installment of Toy Story, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the whole cast of toys are faced with the inevitable: their owner, Andy, has grown up, and he is leaving the house to go off to college. Naturally, the toys are worried, since it seems they are destined for the attic–or worse.

An interesting moral conflict arises among Andy’s toys. Woody, the leader of the group, asserts that their purpose is to be there for Andy when Andy needs them, while many of the other toys proclaim that they just want to be played with. Andy was a wonderful owner, and played with this toys with much imagination in his youth, but as he’s grown up and his need to play with his toys has waned.

At the core of this conflict is the question: What is the moral purpose of a toy? Should they, as Woody would have them, be sentenced to possibly decades in the attic so they can “be there” for Andy when needed, or should they seek the joy they once had by finding a new owner who will play with them again? Is their purpose to serve Andy, or to bring excitement, suspense and adventure to the imagination of young children, which is what makes the toys happy?

They face these questions after and while being donated to a child day care center. But this is where the story gets sidetracked and turns into more of a horror movie. At the day care center, they meet a whole host of new toys (and unimaginative, abusive children), including an evil, pink, strawberry scented stuffed bear named Lotso and a toy that looks more like Chucky than a baby play doll. The conflict switches from the internal one, to fighting for their lives in the face of this evil bear and his Gestapo of toys.

Still, there is fun to be had, and Toy Story 3 delivers some fun and laughs, including an imaginative sequence with Mr. Potato Head and hilarious scene when Ken and Barbie meet each other for the first time.

In one particularly stomach turning moment, however, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and their friends, as well as the evil bear Lotso, are faced with imminent destruction. They manage to nearly escape but Woody decides, in an obscene act of altruism, to save Lotso and put the survival of him and his friends in the hands of this monster. Needless to say, the evil bear does what evil bears do, and what follows is the movie’s most horrific scene in which the good toys must face their imminent deaths. Adults will be horrified, and children may be scarred, so proceed with caution.

Of course, this is a Disney movie, so expect a happy ending and a particularly touching and well crafted conclusion, where we finally get to experience a human connection with the toys. It may give you goosebumps or bring a tear to your eye, but the horror preceding it leaves a very uneasy feeling and one feels a sense of lost innocence by the time the credits begin to roll.

It is unfortunate, because the internal central conflict did not need to be needlessly complicated by such trite antics as a cliched evil villain nor was the horror employed for any rational purpose. If Woody and his friends had to truly face their budding moral conflict, the picture could have unfolded into a complex tale of the Good vs. the Good (or seeming good), but instead the filmmakers chose a lesser conflict to be the crux of the story.

It’s too bad, because all the pieces were there, just not fully assembled.