Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story has just become the greatest pop-culture cinematic trilogy of all time

I grew up watching the Star Wars trilogy and I still enjoy visiting Episodes IV-VI. I still consider Episodes I-III as best having never happened. Spiderman 3 proved that Sony should have left Raimi alone even if that meant letting him make a weak third entry on his own terms. Superman 3 is best left forgotten. Lord of the Rings was a solid trilogy given the over-rated source material. Sorry, folks, but Tolkien's trilogy was just a little too self-important.

The paradox to me is that Toy Story, a children's entertainment franchise that clearly builds its whole premise around toys as sentient characters, has, with Toy Story 3, toppled all possible contenders for a cinematic trilogy. In some ways this is the weakest of the three and yet the way in which the story explores the unsettling possibilities and inevitable moments anticipated in the previous two films it is, as a weak link, far stronger than any other third film in any other entry of any other franchise. This is a sequel that makes good on the artistic and philosophical dillemas posed by the earlier entries. For a movie franchise about toys this is a more profound, thought-provoking series than any would-be competitors.

As I have blogged extensively elsewhere Pixar films have continuously explored in delicate yet paradoxically blunt fashion the anxiety of death, loss, alienation, and the struggle to establish or maintain identity or relational standing. I'm going to need some time to collect my thoughts but I have a few things I can put down as themes I intend to explore not just in Toy Story 3 but also in Toy Story as a trilogy. I don't think a Christian could find a more compelling cinematic exploration of the observation that he who seeks to save his life will lose it but he who gives up his life will find it. Since this alone is a spectacularly significant thematic thread in the trilogy I'll need time to explore just that in each of the three films.

But there's more that can be considered in the greatest pop cinema trilogy than just how one observation of Christ can apply to the narrative. Having read not too long about the career of Elijah I would say that we can explore the surprisingly dynamic Woody as a kind of prophet within the world of toys. It is he, despite his often significant character flaws, who calls other toys to be and recognize who they truly are despite temptations to other identities and despite the temptations he himself faces to cast off who he is in favor of who he would wish to be. In the end when he has the opportunity to be taken up in a favorable position over against his friends and fellow toys he, like Moses, refuses to have a favor that does not extend to his own people. Woody, in a sense, represents a prophet who wavers but utimately succeeds in perservering and urging his fellows to perservere and, in return, is rewarded with a new life he couldn't have imagined for himself. But this outcome was unexpected and along the way he reconciled himself to the terrifying reality that death is inevitable.

Like I said, there's so much to unpack for me from not only Toy Story 3 but the trilogy as a whole it will take several entries.

P.S. for the truly nerdy fan of animation you may have found it gratifying, as I did, that along the way in Woody's quest to save the day he gets some help in getting back to his friends fromTotoro. Miyazaki fans who are also Pixar fans get to see the mutual respect of the two most artistically significant animation studios on either side of the Pacific play out in a sweet little way that would be easy to miss unless you're really familiar with the cinematic output of both Pixar and Studio Ghibli.

1 comment:

DZ said...

Wenatchee-
Love your thoughts here and agree 100% with you about the trilogy issue.

If you'd be at all interested in writing a "guest review" for Mockingbird about either Toy Story 3 or the whole trilogy, please let me know.

davidzahl@gmail.com

no pressure,

DZ