One has suspected a subtle sub-text in the "Toy Story" series—every Pixar film has evoked that feeling (which is why they tower over Dreamworks and every other animation supplier and make even their rivals' three-dimensional films seem more two-dimensional) since the first film premiered (what was it?) fifteen years ago.
"Toy Story 3" is no less rich in sub-text.
Sub-texts like the given that the toys have stayed the same, but their little owner Andy has grown up and is on his way to college by the time we hit "3;" First sub-text: Change or be passed over. Any one looking for a job in these troubled times has had to be confronted with their inadequacy in some department while they're winning the daily bread. And like the toys of "Toy Story," time may be their enemy, staying consistent while the world evolves too quickly.
But, at the pace-making heart of the "Toy Story" movies has been one constant, and that is its contemplation of the nature of Love, which puts it in the same movie-case with such seminal works as "Vertigo" and "A.I." In the first "Toy Story," cowboy-doll Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) watched in horror as the affection of his beloved Andy was supplanted by the new space-age toy Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). The stakes doubled in "Toy Story 2" when we witnessed the discarding of cow-girl Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack) as her owner grew up and put away childish things (see the video below). And we witnessed Woody turned from an object of play to a rarified objet collectionner, the very definition of a "trophy love." "Toy Story 3" takes Jesse's plight and applies it to the entire toy corps, facing abandonment (the attic) and, worse, discarding (at the sidewalk on garbage day). The toy soldiers take action and evacuate the premises first: "Once the garbage bags come out, the army men are the first to go" barks the commander (R. Lee Ermey) before para-sailing out of Andy's bedroom window. The others are left to contemplate their fate.
There is one axiom I've held to my heart from the moment I first recognized its truth—I'm sure it originates elsewhere, but I first read it from thriller writer John D. MacDonald: "Love is not the opposite of Hate; love and hate are merely two sides of the same coin. The opposite of love is indifference."
There are a lot of instances of indifference on display in "Toy Story 3" (though certainly not at the hands of the creative team behind it, who have filled it with pithy circumstance and finely-wrought detail in a cartoonish 3-D photo-realism**). But, so is love, in the through-line from the first movie, first warbled in Randy Newman's opening song "You've Got a Friend in Me." It is the banding together of the community, standing stuffed shirt to plasticene shell through adversity, the toys' answer to "Can't We All Just Get Along?" All the movies have centered around the toys—diverse as they are—keeping the group together, and welcoming the new. That reaches its dramatic climax here as the team locks hands as they face absolute destruction in a truly frightening version of Hell.
The forging of the community has been a theme running throughout the history of film (especially Westerns) since Edison, certainly John Ford, and we've all seen those films where the protagonist loses a family in order to gain another, sometimes not by choice. Those bonds are infused with strength to take on all comers and all challenges, but the heart of that coming-together has always been the one unofficial but over-arching Commandment: Love thy Neighbor.
I mentioned putting away childish things earlier. That's from The Bible (1 Corinthians 13), and looking over that verse again, I saw images spring up from "Toy Story 3"—"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing," particularly. But especially its last devastating quality in its check-list of Love's qualities, which always makes me tear up a little when I contemplate it, and I contemplate love and loss. For toys break, batteries fade, fabric burns and plastic will melt. But Love "never faileth."
Love never dies.
"Toy Story 3 is a Full-Price Ticket."
* How many times have we said that, as adults, mourning the loss of childhood from adult responsibilities?
** But, man, you want to see Pixar push the envelope? Check out the sophisticated opening short "Day & Night," a wordless combination of 2-D and 3-D, line animation and computer graphics, filled with rich imaginative ideas and a brilliant sound design. The work of animator Teddy Newton, this little gem, puts him at the top of exciting animators to watch.