I was in college when I first encountered Toy Story 3. I was younger than ten when I saw the original movie. At that time, all I knew was that it featured funny-looking cartoons about a cowboy doll and his rival-cum-pal space ranger. I did not know until much later that Toy Story upended the computer graphics industry in unprecedented ways.
The second and third iterations in the Toy Story series essentially find Woody and Buzz (the cowboy and space ranger) fighting to maintain life as they know it as Andy, their human owner, grows older. Eventually, he naturally starts to neglect the toys. In the third movie, he goes off to college, which makes him just a few years younger than I was when the movie was released.
For those who have never seen it (spoiler alert!), Andy gives all the toys away at the end. They are happy because he gives them to a new owner, a cheerful young girl. Yet the final scene is quite dramatic for a cartoon. When friends who saw it before I did told me they cried at this point, I scoffed. How could an adult be moved by computer animation?
And then I got emotional too, when I finally saw the movie. I was reminded of this when I saw the movie on TV recently. I thought of Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” He wrote that a solid 1900 years before movie theaters existed. He certainly had no idea what CGI was. But Paul understood from his own experience that life continues to unfold in time. For most people, life follows a progression from a childlike existence to a mature adulthood. Paul found losing this immaturity good and necessary. But the Romantic in me mourns the loss of innocence and the dawn of complexified adulthood. That is why Toy Story 3 affects me.
As Andy gives his toys away — even his beloved Woody the Cowboy — I think about my own childhood. I do not even know where my old toys ended up. At some point, at a moment much less dramatic than Pixar implies, I put away or gave away or did something to those childish things. That is what movies do well, of course: they crystallize dramatically those emotions felt fleetingly in time.
“At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” Paul is looking forward to the Reign of God when human shadows and images of God will be replaced by a true knowing. The Toy Story series is a coming of age narrative not so much about the toys (they are plastic, after all), but about Andy, a suburban kid whose father is noticeably absent from his life for a reason the viewer is never given.
Maybe adults cry at the ending because they see themselves in Andy. They surrendered their childhood at some point. They know how maddening those years of transition were. But we are left with hope. They toys live! They live in the universe of a new owner who will use them for what they were made for. Andy walks into adulthood, but the gang is still together.
“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The toys are claimed out of the dustbin of history by a new owner. So while I remember the transition to adulthood and the ways I left behind, I am happy for the Buzz Lightyear in me — claimed forever by One who doesn’t change. Claimed for infinity and…well, you know the rest.