Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Toy Story 3 and the writer's dilemma

Let me open this blog post with a qualifying statement :

I don't like Toy Story.

If you are offended by this, please, read no further.  I enjoyed the first one, but didn't like the second, and recently saw, but did not admire, the third in same the manner as everyone else seems to be.  If you want to know why, check the subtitle of my blog.  If you're interested in a more in-depth analysis, please, join me over here near my soapbox.

The first Toy Story was quaint.  I can relate to an old toy being 'betrayed' for something new.  It was sweet, about acceptance, and learning to live with each other.  In a way, it was also the emotions we all go through whenever a younger sibling is introduced to the household - infants takes up so much more time than toddlers, so it seems like our parents prefer our younger sibling, even though all it does is cry and poop and be boring.

Toy Story 2 is about Woody being the star, needing the others to convince him that he should return to where he 'should' be.  The moral is that, even if someone will eventually stop loving you, you should spend as much time with them as you can.  Hmmm.  The old man-dark mentor-shapeshifter archetype is apparent here, in the form of Stinky Pete, the Prospector.

Toy Story 3 is about being left behind.  The moral of the story is 'don't ever try'.  The toys get given away by accident, and spend the rest of the movie trying to get home so they can be stuffed in the attic.  They meet another old man-dark mentor-shapeshifter archetype, and the same kind of relationship ensues.  In both movies, boy do these evil guys get their Comeuppance!  And it rings hollow, for me, because the motives of the villains are as plain as the motives of the 'good' guys - they're not necessarily bad, just self-absorbed.  They also get a 'healthy' dose of what they most fear as an antidote for their selfishness.  I'm not really okay with this.

I know these are children's films, but what are we teaching our kids?  Being considerate is fine, but if you teach them that, if they're not considerate, their greatest fear will come true, how is that at all reassuring?  Ideally, people would be nice because of the inherent value and self-esteem they get from being so; if they're only being nice 'just in case', that's a whole different game, which leads to resentment and a slow testing of the boundaries to find out just how nice 'nice' has to be.  When it turns out Karma doesn't immediately hunt them down, suddenly, the lesson is lost.  Surely there must be a better way to teach this lesson.

And, while I'm on the topic, Woody and Buzz et al aren't nice, either.  They're loyal, which is different.  They help each other out, they'll help out other toys in trouble, but they're only in it for themselves, and to get home to Andy.  Woody only seems to be altruistic when it's ridiculously inconvenient.  They do things because they're 'right', not because they're nice.  That's also sending a mixed message to children - do what society tells you, or you'll end up like that guy.  Compliance is key!

But, aside from that, my main problem with the series is one that many writers, especially those of children's media, face - how do you create tension when none of the main characters can die?  My gut response is to say "Man up and kill 'em", but that's not always an option.  As Tim Babb so eloquently put it :

So maybe killing Buzz, or Jessie, or Rex would ruin the franchise.  That's fine.  It's already over, so why not go out with a bang?  But I suppose it's the same way I'd feel if they did another My Little Pony movie and killed off Wind Whistler.  I wouldn't care if they gutted Majesty, though.  She's pretty much a jerk.

Maybe I'm just hard at heart, like an ice cube that's been left in the freezer too long.  I have other problems with Toy Story 3, such as Woody's ridiculous walk cycle, which I actually liked, but didn't fit in when everyone else ran normally, or the creepiness factor of a movie that's supposedly for children : 

What is THIS?

I wasn't as excited for the film as my boyfriend was.  I'm not a 3D animator.  But I shouldn't have to be to enjoy the story.  I didn't.  I wish they'd all died, but that's just me.  It would have been better than taking the hopes of maltreated toys, giving them what they always wanted, then dashing those hopes forever as a punishment for their 'wicked' ways.  I can't think of anything crueller, and when you show us the world has already been cruel to them, why do you expect us to laugh?

Have one-dimensional villains, if you're writing a children's movie.  It makes punishing them so much easier.  Lose the 'no one is truly evil' crap, and have them be evil because they can be.  Children sure as heck can be rotten little things, but they don't know any better.  Morality isn't inbuilt.  You need to teach it, but not in a didactic way.  Let them understand that some people are just plain mean.  That way, they won't be confused when the school bully punches them in the eye.  They won't agonise over how the bully feels, they'll either punch him right back or learn to avoid him, rather than thinking that maybe he's a good person underneath.  Most people are, but when you're a kid, it's not that complicated.  Some kids are lovely.  Some kids are jerks.  The gradual distinctions are the realm of adults.  Children shouldn't have to think that much about it.  

I say we return to cartoon villains.  They never really hurt anyone, though not through lack of trying, and they sure as heck didn't confuse me when I was young.  You know where you stand with a good cartoon villain.  It's these shades-of-grey guys that make me angry, when I'm forced to sympathise, then expected to laugh.  Some people have tough lives, Pixar.  And sometimes the effort of not being a jerk is too hard to maintain.  It doesn't make you a bad person, it just makes you a weak one.  That's a big difference.

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