Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Toy Story 3 is About the Afterlife

"Reach for the sky."


Couldn't be more appropriate for what I am writing about.

Toy Story 3 Poster
It got bigger. And better. Introducing Toy Story: Prison Break!

THIS IS NOT A REVIEW, but just to get it out of the way; Toy Story 3 is Pixar's first threequel just as Toy Story 2 was Pixar's maiden voyage into sequel territory - and like Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 proved to be better movie than its predecessor both in terms of storytelling and animation (I've seen it in 3D, but like Up, I feel the extra dimension adds little to the already 3-dimensional characters, so if you want to save a buck, seeing it in normal-D detracts nothing from the viewing experience). It is probably the best film you can see in theatres for the time being until Inception premieres in July, and I am not ashamed to admit that the ending moved me to manly tears. Both Toy Story films dealt with the themes of attachment and abandonment, but Toy Story 3 took it to its logical conclusion... and beyond.

"Beyond" is the operative word here. When I was watching Toy Story 3, I was positively bombarded with religious allegories and post-life metaphors - or maybe I'm just susceptible to to interpreting it that way, my being an amateur theology buff and everything. The central plot of the film essentially talks about the toys' fate when their relationship with Andy, their child (now a teen and too old for toys), comes to an end. As "being there for Andy" is pretty much their raison d'ĂȘtre, not being needed by Andy, by extension and for all practical purposes, represents the termination of their lives.

The movie then show us - to my eyes, at least - the different possible fates of life after death; some of which Andy's toys actually experienced for realsies while some were only described peripherally.

This is best read by people who have already seen Toy Story 3. Hereafter there be spoilers, yarr!

The Attic: Limbo

Limbo is a Catholic concept necessitated by the exclusive method of salvation in Christendom; which is to be forgiven and brought back into a personal relationship with God by receiving Jesus' sacrifice. There's simply no other way to get into Heaven. What then of Abraham, Moses and the other patriarchs who lived before Jesus' time but had died in the friendship of God? Must they burn in Hell because the taint of their Original Sin was not removed through the acceptance of Christ?

That's what Limbo is for - a place at the edge of Hell which kind of like a departure terminal for all the Old Testamental saints and prophets to hang around in while waiting for Jesus to get born, get executed and get the Heaven doors opened. In that respect, the Attic is a bit like that. There, the toys will have the pleasure of each other's company and could indulge in fun diversions like games and television, sans the bliss of being played with - and there's that hope that "Andy might have kids of his own one day" said Woody. Considering that Andy is almost like God to the toys (who are all religiously loyal to him), his firstborn is technically the Christ, the Messiah. He will inherit them and free them from the Attic to be played with again. And being played with is certainly considered heavenly by the toys.

The meh-ness of the dark Attic where the toys will neither be ecstatically happy nor experience pain also brings to mind the Greek Asphodel Meadows or the Hel of the Norse mythos: two retirement home-type afterlife worlds that are similarly neutral in nature and sound boring as heck.

College: Immortality

Whoops! Seems like Pixar haven't climbed completely out of the uncanny valley yet.

In a rather poignant scene where Andy was deciding which one toy he wanted to take to College with him as a memento of his childhood, he chose Woody over Buzz. Woody's fate from that point onwards would be in a continuous existence and relationship with Andy, leaving all his friends behind to live in the Attic. This mirrors how immortal characters are depicted in fiction where they eventually outlive everyone they know or love. As we learnt in Toy Story 2, Woody is something of a collectible antique more than half a century old and is probably a hand-me-down from his conspicuously missing Dad (which explains Andy's fierce attachment to him) who in turn might have gotten Woody from his parents; making the cowboy a sort of heirloom. "It's an old family toy," Andy's Mom said as much to Al who wanted to buy Woody in a yard sale in the second movie. It's probably safe to say that Woody will continuously be passed down the line and will never outlive his purpose.

I'll admit that immortality isn't so much a life after death possibility as it is an existential state of being.

Sunnyside Daycare: Heaven and Purgatory

Sunnyside Daycare
God and the Devil is the same bloke! I knew it!

Imagine to be played with everyday in perpetuity, never to be abandoned or outgrown ever because there are always new kids coming in all the time! Being donated to the Sunnyside Daycare is like going to Toy Heaven, or so thought Buzz et al.

The Butterfly Room is indeed like that while the Caterpillar Room housing younger children is more representative of Purgatory, another Catholic doctrine which the sola scriptura, sola fide Protestants don't buy into at all. The Catholics believe that there exists a halfway house for souls which have screwed up in life a little (but not too much) where they will undergo painful temporary punishment to cleanse themselves of sin before entering into the squeaky cleanness Heaven. Some believe that prayers from the living, from outside of Purgatory, can help expedite the purification process and hasten their entrance into Heaven.

Andy's toys must have had a nasty surprise when their ticket to Heaven dropped them in the purgatorial Caterpillar Room where they were roughhoused, thrown about and had their parts stuffed into orifices by toddlers who are not "age-appropriate" to play with them. Lotso, the amiable de facto tyrant of the toys in Sunnyside, deemed them unworthy but was willing to offer Buzz a place in the paradisaical Butterfly Room because he showed "initiative" by breaking out of the hellhole to negotiate a transfer of his friends - so there's a chance of getting out through merit after all.

And it took outside help (Woody's) to eventually break them out of
the Caterpillar Room.

Toy Story Prison Break
"Fuck Purgatory, we are bustin' out of here, boys!"

The Dump: Hell or Extinction

The dump, the shredder and the incinerator were imageries that were all very powerfully evocative of a fire and brimstone Hell where the toys could be put through terrible torture and melted down in what looked all in the world like Satan's barbecue. And what d'you know, it was Lotso (our God slash Devil teddy bear from Sunnyside) who psychopathically consigned them to that fiery fate despite the fact that they are good toys, as evidenced by Woody and Buzz's rescue of his strawberry-scented ass from the shredder even after everything he's done to their company of toys. All they did was refuse to bow to his dictatorial whims and off they were sent to damnation. Sounds like the Christian Hell alright.

In essence however, the whole sequence at the dump more closely parallels the atheistic belief that there is just simply extinction or annihilation of the consciousness after death (what I personally believe in and am most comfortable with). As they were slowly slipping into the incinerator, the toys linked hands in the face of their inevitable end, having spent a full and happy life being Andy's toys. There was no longer fear or apprehension - simply quiet, dignified acceptance. They were ready. It's going to be like falling into a deep sleep after the longest day ever.

Of course, then there's that deus ex machina moment involving an actual deus ex machina - but it was sufficiently foreshadowed by the 3 little green Pizza Planet aliens' worshipful reverence towards anything resembling a claw so it did not seem too contrived a plot device.

At the vergejpg
At the verge of the garbage chute, looking down into the abyss of a dumpster.

So, a god-like being plucked Andy's toys from certain doom - what's next?

Bonnie's House: Reincarnation

In perhaps one of the most touching and satisfying ending in cinematic history to a franchise of movies, the toys were given to a shy little girl called Bonnie. She only ever opened up to her toys, and it was a truly heartwarming moment when she slowly blossomed as Andy hands her his toys one by one, introducing each of them to her as if they are real people. The sight of Bonnie and a teenage Andy playing together with their toys at the bottom of the garden just made me grin stupidly the whole time. It brought the shapeless fond memories of my own childhood back to me - memories which I may or may not have. When Bonnie raised Woody's hand in a wave goodbye to Andy as he was leaving for college, I could just feel the emotions welling out from the toy cowboy's frozen expression. It's a testament to how well-realised Woody is as a character.

Being passed down to Bonnie represents their rebirth or reincarnation; a metaphysical concept common in Eastern faiths like Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism. Their life with Andy had ended and now, they are at the threshold of a new one with a lovely little girl who loves her toys dearly and takes care of them as well as Andy did.

I cannot imagine an ending sweeter.

"And as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You're gonna' see, it's our destiny
You got a friend in me."

P.S. So, what do you think of my interpretation of Toy Story 3 as a complex life after death allegory? Is there really something to it or am I just overanalysing a computer-animated film for kids?

You got a friend in him,
k0k s3n w4i


Zzzyun said...

overanalyzing is my bet haha. but it's quite funny how u put it under those headings..

hmm i didnt know catholics have a halfway house called purgatory. maybe there is hope after all :PPP

ps: i wished movies werent so expensive in perth... :(

-hui- said...

Sounds very nice and touching.. I like the way how you compare it with religion. =)

sirei said...

haha, nice post XD
but the incinerator part where the toys think they're doomed made me cried so much so does andy sending his toys to bonnie

nice movie


wahhh,,i'll watching ths movie tonight,,,hahaha..

dLa said...

i will watching this movie too !

v!vi@n said...

kinda true...your analysis...but you are great man, you can think of this..hahahaha...i never realize it until i read your post...

woaini_87 said...

looks like you are over analyzing a simple kiddo's story... hehe.. but that is how grown up's always think.. =)

Jaerragus said...

Now... you can really be a movie critic... but still nice post... heaven and hell and immortality and all that mythical thingy, splendid!!!

Vin Tsen Gan said...

Wow, very 'detailed' analysis and review I should say =D

Lisa717 said...

Fuyoh~~~~ what a long n detailed comments about Toy Story 3!! U shud work in press company!! Ur english is just way too good eh~~ keep up the good work bro~~

Zenghoong said...

Wow, you made a simple movie sound so complicated. If I ever do watch it again, I'll definitely see things in a very different way. Good job :P

Hilda Milda said...

Ohmygod, you see things very differently indeed. I never thought of what you wrote here but you have your points as well.

Glo-w~* said...

Perhaps it's a conspiracy to send subliminal messaging into the minds of the little ones to be nicer human beings?


Anyways love your take on it and love the fact that pixar manages to create something so fantastic and yet wholesome^^

k0k s3n w4i said...

Zzzyun: nope, purgatory is only for those who have accepted christ but have committed venial sins (or forgivable sins). s'not for godless people like us, lol.

-hui-: it's one of the best movies i've seen this year for sure. and thanks :)

sirei: thanks. in my screening, all the women left the theatre crying. some guys have noticeably damp eyes too.

MELVISTER and dLa: i might see it again too, but in 2D.

v!vi@n: i like fiction and i like reading the meanings behind them. that's art, isn't it? to tell truths with lies.

woaini_87: perhaps, but perhaps not. pixar is known for infusing their movies with complex themes. remember wall•e and up`? those were pretty deep too.

Jaerragus: on this isn't so much a review as it is a literary study - but i do like reviewing movies on the occasion. if only someone would hire me, haha. dream job.

Vin Tsen Gan: thank you - i certainly do try my best :)

Lisa717: thank you but my english is pretty pedestrian compared to most writers i know. my grammar can use a bit of polish, if you ask me.

Zenghoong: there's two ways to write about any film i guess: say what you think about it or say what you think it's saying to its audience. the latter bit tends to complicate things.

Hilda Milda: i like to think that everyone sees things differently in their own ways, haha.

Glo-w~: other than studio ghibli, pixar is probably the best animation studio in business today. i'd prefer them not to make sequels though and tackle entirely new worlds in every new film :)

Jen said...

You really gotta lighten up abit. Anyway, I havent watched Toy Story 3 yet, so I'll refrain from reading most of this post.

But I can already guess how it's going to sound like :P

Btw, which CD's did you choose in the end?

k0k s3n w4i said...

Jen: "But I can already guess how it's going to sound like :P"

actually, it's more a literary and thematic discussion rather than anything outright religious (or anti-religious, as my case usually is). it's written totally outside my radical atheist blogging mode, haha. and i have lightened up! i'm 66.5 kilos now! faster go watch toy story 3; then come back and read. as for the CD's, i got nothing i really wanted :( will write about them when i get them.

Zzzyun said...

haha really? so that;s what purgatory for.

hmm i dont really see the fairness btw ppl who accepted christ but did "forgivable sins" but can go to purgatory compared to ppl who sinned much lesser but dont believe in christ so are deemed to eternal hell. hmpf!

Alex Warlorn said...

Truly this reminds me of how no one isn't an active member of any particular theology can truly understand that particular theology (including the theology of no theology by extension it seems).

Lotso don't forget his motivation was that he was lost by his owner, and when he finally found his way back to her, he found out her parents had gotten her a new Lotso bear, there was nothing to stop him from still being found and return to her, he'd simply have to share her with an identical twin... NO WAY IS THAT HAPPENING! Daisy was HIS owner, HIS own, as Woody said, he was possessive of her. SO when he couldn't share her love, he rejected it out right.

Lotso is for all intents and purposes someone who set himself above humans, above his god, deciding he'll call for the fate of toys instead of humans, officially over stepping his bounds, at first glance this is no different from Woody saving Squeaker in TS2, but Lotso takes this to an extreme and beyond.

The staff at the daycares should logically be the ones to decide which toys are best suited for the toddlers, but Lotso usurps this authority and decides for himself, subverting the intents of the very humans they're supposed to be there for.

And Lotso is the one constantly arguing that owners can NEVER genuinely love her toys, because of his tragic relationship with Daisy. The one arguing their gods can't EVER truly know how they feel or care about them.

But with Lotso out of the pictures, the natural relationship between the toys and humans at daycare is restored and looks all the better for it.

Sheffield Stupid Club said...

Agree with your interpretation: found this blog because I arrived at the same conclusion and was googling to see who else thought the same.
One other thing I noticed:

As Woody and the gang are slowly being conveyed to the furnace (flames of hell?) they give Losto a help up so he can hit the conveyor belt stop switch. Once he gets to the switch and it's obvious he has no intention of saving them from a fiery death, he turns to the other toys still on the conveyor belt and says "Where is your kid now?" (as in the popular "Where is your god now?" meme).

k0k s3n w4i said...

Zzzyun: *shrug* that's why we're atheists.

Alex Warhorn: a very astute interpretation, i must say. anyhow, i'm not really making out that my little theory here explains the intention of the filmmakers. what i aimed to do (and did) was to write a piece on how toy story 3 reminds me of afterlife options. it does tickle me that your interpretation pretty much means that gods can sometimes be assholes, break you for their amusement and stuff you up their orifices :)

Sheffield Stupid Club: hey, i totally missed that connection! thanks for pointing that out; a thousand internet points to you!

Aric Clark said...

Great minds and all that. I put up a similar article back on June 19th. Glad I'm not the only one who saw the metaphor.