Saturday, June 26, 2010

It's About People. All Kinds

Scott D. Parker

After another hellacious week in the day job, I finally got to see “Toy Story 3” yesterday. This was also the week in which I lived in semi-dread that my son, who saw the film with his grandparents last weekend, was going to spoil something. I shouldn’t have feared. He kept his silence and allowed my wife and I (with him along for a second viewing, this time, in 3D) to be completely and utterly blown away by this special movie.

For those of you who have seen “Toy Story 3,” you know the emotional wallop this film evokes. And, to be honest to myself and this essay, I’m going to have to write about specifics. So, if you haven’t seen the movie--why not?!--get thee to a movie theater and do it. Then, come back here and we’ll chat. So, spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As we drove home yesterday, my voice still cracking under the emotional aftermath, I commented that Pixar has the golden touch. Their worst film--I’ll leave that to your own discretion--is better than almost every other movie released in a given year. For all the high concept shenanigans of a rat that can cook, a fish that wants to find his son, or a robot who falls in love, Pixar’s fundamental truth of storytelling is something we writers should never forget. That fundamental truth is: people matter. Take “Finding Nemo.” It’s not enough to have Marlin swimming across the Pacific, dodging all obstacles, on his way to Sydney and his son, Nemo. The plot of “Finding Nemo” isn’t about how Marlin evades the shark. It’s the emotion behind his quest that is the difference. As parents, we know exactly the feeling Marlin has and can sympathize with his unswerving drive. The reunion at the end is that much sweeter knowing the emotional baggage behind it.

The same is true with “Toy Story 3.” Looking at the trailers and reading the reviews, I knew the story was going to be about a mix-up that landed our heroes in a day care center and their fight to return to Andy, even if that meant that he would leave for college and they’d stay home, likely in the attic. For most of the movie, that is the driving plot device and laughter, danger, and grand adventure ensued. What carried the movie along was the characters, not their hijinks or antics. These toys cared for and loved each other with an emotion so pure, it’s something you want to capture in a bottle and preserve forever. It wasn’t a quest to kill something or destroy an evil enemy. It was the drive to survive, to mean something for someone else.

The first part that got me tearing up was when the toys were falling into the inferno. They realized there was no escape. The antics ended right then and there. It was a scene without humor. What they decided to do was hold hands and die together. These are toys. Toys! And they got me. I’m not ashamed to say that tears flowed. Their escape was perfect, but that only set up the mother of all emotional waves at the end.

Woody, the one toy Andy chose to travel with him to college, took his fate in his own hands and chose to remain with his family, and, truth be told, to remain true to his one calling. With a note, he convinced the eighteen-year-old Andy to give his toys to young Bonnie, a girl with an imagination as active as Andy’s was in the first Toy Story movie. This Andy does, but not before introducing each toy (like a curtain call) to Bonnie on her front lawn. One more round of play with Andy, his toys, and Bonnie follows. At this point, I’m all but bawling, the tears blurring my 3D vision. My only wish was for my son not to notice, stick his face in my face, lift up my glasses, and say “Are you crying, Dad?” Thankfully, I was able to have my valedictory moments with these wonderful characters to myself.

It’s not the adventures these toys endured that will last forever in my imagination. It’s their love for each other. And, in their own way, their love for me, my wife, my son, and anyone else whose lives they have touched these past fifteen years. When push comes to shove, these characters choose to take actions that help others rather than themselves. Their purity of love is exquisite. It helps me to remember that, for all the plots I can dream up for any characters I create, if I can’t make a reader love them, I’ve only half won.

Storytelling. It’s all about people. All kinds. Even plastic ones.


pattinase (abbott) said...

You have me bawling before I ever get to the theater.

Karel Segers said...

Great piece, Scott.

"It was the drive to survive, to mean something for someone else."

I find that both Toy Story 2 and 3 made a powerful statement that "to mean something for someone else" is MORE important than surviving. That was what TS2 was all about. Woody chose the dangers of being played with over immortality in a museum.

A hint of the same theme comes back but ultimately the film is about separation from the parent. Andy from his mum, Woody from Andy.

The parallel climax at the end is the most powerful and emotional payoff I have seen in movies in years.

Unknown said...

Yep, I cried like a girly man too.