Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grown Up

This post talks about "Toy Story 3 and contains spoilers, in case you haven't seen that movie


Last night I watched “Toy Story 3” with my wife and daughters. I thought the story was very touching and I found my eyes filling with tears at the end. Since then I’ve been wondering: what is it about this story that I found to be so moving? The ending was a bittersweet, but it was the best of all possibilities for the motley crew of toys. And, yet I felt far more sadness than anything.

As I reflected on everything the wonderful story contained I realized that “Toy Story 3” wasn’t about the toys at all. Just as “Ben Hur” was really about Jesus (the complete title is “Ben Hur, a Story of the Christ”), “Toy Story 3” is about Andy. Sure, the majority of the time the focus is on the plight of the toys, but at almost every moment it is the plight of Andy that is in the background.

We start with video of Andy playing with his beloved toys, games of make believe that demonstrate the unashamed imagination that is special to young children. But, the screen cuts to Andy preparing to leave for college. What will become of the toys; trash or attic or worse? At this point the viewer gets only a glimpse at Andy’s thoughts. He cares enough to put them away in the attic and he plans to bring Woody to college where he would likely end up as an ornament on a desk, seen, but not to be played with. It is a better fate than the attic.

If you’ve seen the movie you know about the plight of the toys, but one of the most revealing scenes is that of Andy searching for the toys he wanted to save and learning that they were accidently put out with the trash. Andy is visibly upset and then we don’t see him for a while. At that point perhaps he realizes that the childhood memory that he thought he was shuffling off to storage has been lostforever and we feel his loss.

The toys go through a number of misadventures until they find themselves, in a Jonathan Edwards moment, on the brink of annihilation, only to be grasped from the fire by the giant, divine “Claw”. They all make their way back to Andy who gets a second chance at redemption. Through the intervention of Woody he decides to give his toys, except for Woody, to Bonnie, a girl who we know will truly appreciate them and play with them just as Andy had done.

At the point when Andy stops at Bonnie’s home to give her the toys he demonstrates that he has not forgotten what the toys are, what they meant to him and what they still mean to him. He could have just handed the box to Bonnie or her Mother and drove off to college, but that wouldn’t have been right. He takes each toy, one at a time and lovingly hands it to Bonnie, making sure that she knows the true story of each one. And in the end he is left with Woody, who still plans to bring to college. But, Bonnie already loves Woody, just as Andy loved Woody when he was that young age. And Andy sees her love and gives Woody to Bonnie.

At this moment Andy finds redemption, just as Judah Ben Hur found his redemption through his three encounters with Jesus. Because, it is expected that Andy, having been true to his toys, would have left, gone on to the more important task of moving into college. After all he’s seventeen and playing with toys just wouldn’t be proper for someone moving on in this world. But, he stays and for the rest of the day he plays with his beloved toys and with Bonnie, recapturing the childhood he thought he had lost forever. And, it is at this moment that the tears start to flow, because for all of us we realize what we have lost. The childlike innocence that we used to have, imagination that can turn a piggybank into evil Dr. Porkchop, is lost; buried beneath the day to day routine that we call growing up and adulthood.

One of my favorite songs, since I was about eight or so, is “Puff, the Magic Dragon”. Years ago someone wrote that this song is about drugs, but if you read the lyrics it is clear that this song is about the losses we suffer when we grow up. Jackie Paper plays with Puff and the two go on the greatest adventures together, until Jackie grows up, Puff is replaced by other toys and forgotten. Without a little boy to bring the imagination there may be a toy dragon, but that is all there is, a lifeless stuffed animal. The imagination of a child brings toys and us to life.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee