"Big Four" Highlights


The Social Significance of ‘Toy Story 3’

No excuses for the bad guy

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

Toy Story

The loud blast you may have heard coming from your video screen was a bunch of animated toy characters passing through a time warp from about 1965 to the present, and speeding past some 40 years of kid drama drivel in the process.

I know I am coming to this a year late, but my sons just got “Toy Story 3” (2010) on DVD and I must  declare that the Pixar production is more than just a great kid’s movie – it has rewritten the script and reset the template for all children’s skits. There is one scene that resounds with social and cultural significance and gives me hope for the next generation. Here it is:

Lots-O’Huggin Bear (“Lotso”) has been exposed as a mean dictator of Sunnyside’s day care toys and the plastic action figures and stuffed animals want to escape his iron grip. “Lotso” foils their inventive plot but they all accidentally fall into the dumpster and are delivered to the incinerator. Caught on an impossibly long conveyor belt, they steadily approach the distant inferno as they try desperately to run against the tide of garbage. Caught in the same predicament, “Lotso” expresses solidarity with the other toys and asks for a push to reach the button that will stop the conveyor. When he reaches the button, though, he turns back to character and runs off, leaving the other toys to face the fire. Ouch – this isn’t supposed to happen in contemporary kid’s stories!

For decades, kids have been brought up on “The Muppets” (even Oscar the Grouch has a good heart), “Barney” (always sunshine and song), countless Disney films which blur the line between good and evil, and the more solid “Veggie Tales,” with the Bible-based animated vegetable figures in which even bad Mr. Nesser is misunderstood and repents. But “Toy Story 3” is different. Even though we learn the root cause of the “Lotso” evil streak – the little girl who loved him, lost him, and never found him again – we still are not asked to grant him instant absolution. The animated plot is much closer to reality, and to the kind of kid stories we used to see in the early 60s – when America was in the midst of a Cold War and we couldn’t afford to have kids thinking that bad guys are really good and the world is soft and cuddly.

The lesson of “Toy Story 3” is that “Lotso” was hurt and became bitter, but that’s no excuse for being mean. He stands poised at the button that would stop the conveyor belt and save the toys that had saved him from being crushed just moments earlier. As I watched with my children for the first time, I fully expected him to press the button and for everyone to hug “Lotso” and learn the lesson that love begets love. What a shock it was to see the mean streak flash across the stuffed bear’s face as he turns and leaves the others to burn.

And where does he run to? He escapes the recycling plant, is nearly run over by a tractor trailer and is placed by the driver on the front grille of the cab, where the other toys who have been flattened by years of facing the wind advise him to keep his mouth shut or something might fly into it. Here we have a novelty in modern kid’s entertainment – punishment for evil, a perpetual 18-wheel Purgatory for the toy gone wrong.

The other toys are saved at the end, of course, by their buddies. When one suggests that they go after “Lotso” to extract revenge, Woody the Sheriff calls off the posse. He will fight in self-defense and to defend others, but revenge is not worth it, he says.

Is it too much to think that “Toy Story 3” is a rather Catholic film?