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Monday, March 7, 2011

Uncle Tom's Toybox

Continuing the Getting-Around-to-It Film Festival 2011, last night we watched "Toy Story 3."

Yes, wonderful, magical, Pixar, genius, tears-to-our-eyes, better than the first two, yadda yadda yadda. Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about what was really going on in that movie.

Frankly, we were more than a little disturbed.

In this installment, the familiar gang of toys, led by Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) face the imminent departure of their "kid," Andy, who is heading off to college. What fate awaits the toys? A peaceful retirement in the attic? Donation to a daycare center? Woody turns out to be the favored one, chosen to accompany Andy to college. Andy plans to place the rest of the toys in the attic, but, due to a mix-up, his mother puts the toys out for the garbage collector. The toys escape this ignominious fate, but, despite Woody's assurances that Andy meant to give them a peaceful retirement, Buzz and the others indignantly decide they would rather be donated than trashed. They go to the Sunnyside Day Care Center, an apparent toy utopia. Woody pleads with the toys to return to Andy's attic, but they will have none of it. Woody leaves on his own and only subsequently does it become clear that Sunnyside is a dictatorship, ruled by the iron (plush) paw of Lots-o-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty). The movie then turns into a comic thriller as Woody returns to rescue his friends.

OK, so, two things bothered us: First, when Woody tries to convince the other toys to leave Sunnyside and return to Andy, much is made of the concept of loyalty: The toys must be loyal to their "kid." Only, Andy is not exclusively referred to as their "kid"; he is also their "owner." Yes, the main characters of the movie are toys, but they are also self-aware, sentient beings, with a rich variety of personalities ranging from the clever (Woody) to the heroic (Buzz) to the feisty (Jessie) to the autistic (those little martian guys). And what do we call people who are owned by other people?

Need we point out that Andy went so far as to "brand" his property, proudly etching his name into their bodies? When Woody argues, therefore, that the toys must show their loyalty to Andy, he strikes us as something of an Uncle Tom. Brought to you by Mattel. The message is only reinforced by the fact that the "disloyal" toys quickly find themselves in a far worse situation at Sunnyside: Where Andy was a caring owner, Lotso is Simon Legree. Wasn't one of the arguments against the abolition of slavery that slaves wouldn't know what to do without their owners? That, indeed, slavery was a benevolent institution protecting those less capable of taking care of themselves? And at the end, when the toys finally make it back to Andy, what does he do? HE GIVES THEM AWAY! OK, sure, they are passed along to the toy-loving Bonnie, who will presumably treat them appropriately, but ultimately we are left with the idea that Woody and Buzz and the rest of the gang are just so much chattel, passed along from one owner to the next until they can no longer be of use.

And then there's the sex. When the toys first arrive at Sunnyside, they are thrilled to see the children enthusiastically playing. Andy, you see, stopped playing with his toys years earlier. And the toys' level of frustration is reminiscent of Mrs. Roper's on "Three's Company": "Oh boy, Oh boy," rhapsodizes Rex (Wallace Shawn), "I can't remember the last time I was played with!" When the toys get their wish, they are not played with lovingly, gently, dare we say, sensuously; instead, they are played with within an inch of their lives--gang-played, if you will--by a group of toddlers for whom the toys are "age inappropriate."

We can imagine one of these children being questioned by the authorities on the morning after: "Mrs. Potato-Head was begging me to play with her. Bitch had it coming."

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