You want this movie to break your heart. Come on, admit it. You want the same sentimental rush you got from Toy Story 2, when Sarah McLachlan sang “When She Loved Me” (the song that sounds like a faithful pet is dying). The secret to the success of the Toy Story franchise is the crippling sadness that embalms the toys. Woody, Buzz, and the rest can scarcely smile without pathos engulfing the grownups in the audience. As a wise critic observed: we are the toys; old, worn, and desperate to be loved. That “when” in the song’s title is primed like a nostalgic depth charge. If it was “if”, you’d have a prayer. But “when” says “it happened”. You loved and were loved. We are all flimsy, doting playthings.
In typical Toy Story fashion, the new movie opens with Death as a central motif. Woody, Buzz, and the rest have been played with for the last time, and their owner, Andy – oblivious of his toys’ love for him – consigns them to the trash. Andy is off to college. Promiscuity and pot will doubtless harden him. The toys stoically accept their fate. But Andy’s sainted mother (perhaps, like us, feeling kinship with the toys) intervenes and rescues some toys for a local day-care centre. The toys, like orphans, seem to feel a foster family is better than none. They do not know why Andy doesn’t love them anymore. They do not blame him. We – the grownups – may hate the Andy in us. But toys are endlessly forgiving.
Toy Story 3 doesn’t break your heart. There’s nothing here as sad as “When She Loved Me”, or the moment, in Up, when the little old woman can’t climb the hill. It may be, having created several of the most grownup-atomising movies ever made (can I add the bit in Wall-E when the girl robot watches Wall-E hold an umbrella over her head?), Pixar decided not to utterly destroy us, by having Woody die, or making us watch the Potato Heads divorce. John Lasseter’s ultimate goal may be to re-make Grave of the Fireflies (the cartoon where two Japanese kids die in the firebombing of Tokyo), but he’s holding at wistful saddest for the moment, rather than outright despair. The toys do come frighteningly close to fiery oblivion, but it’s more “will they?-won’t they?” than an opportunity for discreet tears. You can’t top Sarah McLachlan at her most forlorn.
My other problem is with the gay-bashing. When did Toy Story become homophobic? The jokes making fun of the effeminate Ken doll in the movie would seem reactionary in a Jackie Mason skit. Given the suspicious lack of non-white toys, one would think the film-makers would steer clear of inviting allegations of explicit prejudice. But it seems Pixar can’t wait to enforce Tea Party views on the (until now) broad-minded figurines. Ken is laughable because he acts like a girl. Even the end credits contain yet another dig. Okay, so this may be a bit of politically correct concern, but if you’re making a movie about feeling left-out, isn’t it strange that we’re meant to snigger at someone for being different?
Perhaps this snide stuff comes out of desperation. We all know this Toy Story is the same as the two before. Woody has been feeling obsolete for fifteen years. First he felt threatened, then forgotten, now he’s feels the end is nigh. There is a logical progression to this journey, but the big feeling – heartbreak – was most acute in Part 2. We’ve been through the hell of break-ups and new love. It isn’t any less hellish a second time, but the trauma that’s expressed so eloquently in “When She Loved Me” is the same trauma we find in Toy Story 3, only less so, because that song said it so perfectly. It’s as if you made a sequel to Up, where the little boy grew up, got married, and was bereaved. It feels gratuitous.
We are the toys. We even pay to be toyed with. For grownups, Toy Story is about having your heart squeezed. There’s nothing depressing about the movies (other than their zeal for exploiting sentimentality); they just want to sadden you, sweetly, like fond memories of youth. Toy Story 3 doesn’t do this as well as other Pixar movies. But then, they’re the ones who set the bar so high. My peeve is with the “3” in the title. A sequel to a sequel is never good news. That’s a producer’s decision, a selfish child’s wish. We, the toys who’ve been faithful to the series, are played with too often; we see too much. No toy should be forced to doubt its owner.