I am currently in the air over the Atlantic, heading back to Canada from Brussels, and I just watched Toy Story 4 for the first time. Overall, it was good and I found myself tearing up a few times toward the end.
When Did I Cry?
The first time I teared up a little was around when Gabby surgically removed Woody’s voice-box and instead of complaining or being indignant, he sat with her indulgently as she expressed her gratitude for what he had not freely given. He was patient with her, and while they (Pixar) could have approached the aftermath with him feeling emasculated, or at least eviscerated, Woody seems to take his removed voice-box in stride throughout the rest of the film. And, looking back, I think this is because as a character he is getting ready, before he even realizes it, to abandon the life of being a child’s toy.
Maybe that’s why I cried; putting away childish things like the shiny, brand-new ideal and settling for life as it is. One can relate, but more on that later.
Also, it should be said that there was an initial reading of this scene which came to mind immediately as I watched it; it occurred to me that as Gabby talking cordially to the freshly sewn-up Woody, flossing her new voice, was in as poor taste as a rapist telling his victim how much he enjoyed the sex. That reading gets dark/weird real quick though and I’m only looking to get weird/weird here.
Another place I teared up a little were the scenes where Gabby, with Woody’s voice-box, gets rejected by Harmony and then later gets accepted by the lost girl at the carnival: In the former case, it is difficult to see someone work so hard for something, stepping on others and breaking rules all along the way only to fail. It’s like, “Fuck! All that suffering you caused; what was it all for?”
The latter case at the carnival was just kinda sweet though, and It made me think that the relationship between the toys and the kids is analogous to the relationship between men and women, and the lost toys might be like the MGTOW camp, whereas the toys owned by kids are the analogous to men who have been chosen by a woman. I like this reading because I think there is a pureness with which the toys love children that finds correspondence in the way men love women; it has been said that men love idealistically and women love pragmatically. Well, substitute toys for men and kids for women and you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
The third scene that made me cry a little was at the end where Woody chooses life with Bo Peep over idealistically pursuing a life of servitude to Bonnie’s happiness. As mentioned earlier, this is foreshadowed by his relatively chilled attitude toward getting his voice-box removed.
So what’s going on here? If we already established that toy is to child as man is to woman, what does it mean when Woody chooses Bo Peep over Bonnie? Well, if we see that many toys find happiness without belonging to a child, perhaps we have license to say that, according to our little analogy, the child doesn’t represent the female precisely, but rather the feminine ideal. If Bonnie represents the feminine ideal in contrast to Bo Peep (who is at face value much more feminine than the toddler that is Bonnie), what then does Bo Peep represent?
I think devotion to something/someone tangible than the abstract ideal – a real relationship to a flesh and blood (or plastic and scotch tape) woman perhaps? Giving up the porn and the chasing of a wild sex life, which is ultimately unfulfilling? I don’t know, but that is what comes to mind.
This hits me hard; I am an idealist, and particularly in the realm of romance, there have been a couple of Bo Peeps who I turned away from because they weren’t Bonnies. But alas, the Bonnie’s are fickle and elusive, and while they (Bonnies/feminine ideals/any ideals) serve a valuable purpose as a north star and guide, they are precisely so useful because they are untouchable.
Annie was a Bo Peep. She gave me several chances to commit, but she wasn’t as ‘Bonnie’ to me as say Marijo was at the time -and Marijo was much less Bo Peep in my eyes. In fact, all I saw in the latter was the Divine Feminine personified and I didn’t treat her as something/someone real. It got ugly. This is getting into a quite personal and involved metaphor so I am going to digress on this point.
How Does the Fourth Film Fit into the ‘Trilogy’?
I’ve seen the original Toy Story a million times. I saw the second one almost once completely, but I forget how it ended. The third one I saw once and really enjoyed, thinking it was a great final instalment which really captured the essence of ‘putting away childish things’, such as when Andy goes away to college and passes on all his toys to Bonnie. As far as what the toys themselves learned in the third one, I think it was teamwork, but I don’t really remember. This is a problem then if its called Toy Story, because I remember what Andy learned and how Andy grew more than the toys. So while at first I was a little bit skeptical of this fourth instalment, thinking that things had ended well enough with the third instalment, I think the fourth gives a greater picture of the cycle of life as experienced by toys as represented by Woody.
We, the viewer are much more intimately acquainted with Woody than Andy or Bonnie, and in the fourth we see him clinging to his ideal purpose like an athlete past his prime. How long does he have to go down that road before he sees where it leads? Well, four films evidently, because right up until the moment he decides to remain with Bo Peep at the end (and even afterward when he bestows his Sheriff’s star to Jessie) he is helping his fellow toys become the best they can be in pursuing the goal of Bonnie’s happiness which he is preparing to let go of. It is a passing of the torch, essentially, and when Buzz tells him at the end, “she’ll be ok’ (referring to Bonnie when Woody is considering staying with Bo), we can see that it is about Woody learning to trust others. Even to trust the next generation. To trust ‘Forkie’?
Parallels in Society on the Macro Scale
How does Woody’s arc map onto Western Society’s arc? Can we say he represents the post-WW2 generation being put out to pasture and displaced by the younger, less traditional toys? I think it’s worth exploring. Woody’s first rivalry was with Buzz in the first film, and you can’t get much more of a contrast than cowboy and spaceman. Generationally and technologically, Buzz represented newness relative to Woody. Woody’s subsequent feelings of uncertainty upon Buzz’ arrival could even be viewed as representative of the American national feeling post-1960s, post-moonwalk, post-Kennedy assassinations, during the energy crisis, and in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam. Was the space race the direct cause of this loss of innocence and … miasma (?)? No, but it certainly seems as if a confusing and turbulent decade was heralded by a great success; by the arrival of ‘Buzz’ you might say (and Neil).
From what I remember about the arc of the second film, Woody finds his tribe (Jessie and Silver) after stolen at a yard sale. This speaks to another aspect of American life which I think is important -the ability to get lost in the blurry fringes and find your people. Sure, Woody doesn’t make the choice to leave Andy in the film, but he nonetheless finds himself in the margins of society, and while there he finds himself. Very poetic.
Another telling scene which always stuck with me from the one time I watched the second film was when Buzz sees all the other Buzz Lightyear toys and has to deal with their youthful impetuousness and lack of understanding about who they really are.
Who they really are. In a broad general sense, this is the job of an elder, to remind the youner generation of who they really are. One of Woody’s most famous lines in the first film was screamed at Buzz Lightyear:
“YOU! ARE! A! TOY!!” -even in the fourth film he has to repeatedly tell Forkie (convinced he is trash) the same thing. But in the second film we see a more recently awakened Buzz taking his first furtive steps into the role of shamanic rememberer to a younger generation. I like this reading because it redeems the mass-produced Buzz Lightyear toys in the second film in a manner echoed in the fourth: “You are not (mass-produced) trash; you are a toy.” If we are continuing our allegory from the first film about the older generation being disrupted by the newer one and the confusion that causes, I think it is safe to say broadly that the resolution is a two-fold regaining of lost childhood on the part of the elder (like we see when Woody reconnects with his Round-Up pals), and a simultaneous taking up of the mantle of responsibility by the younger generation.
Empathy and understanding are a natural result.
I don’t feel competent to remark on the third film’s social commentary at the moment, but I briefly want to address how the fourth film might fit: At the outset we see Woody being left in the closet and not being played with. Bonnie routinely takes his star off and pins it on Jessie, and while he occupies a position of some status within the hierarchy of Bonnie’s toys, he is no longer the head-honcho like he was in Andy’s room. Interestingly, Potato Head and Hamm, easily representative of an older generation than Woody himself, are still played with by Bonnie. This might allude to some tendency to ignore our grandparents but mythologize and lionize earlier ancestors, but that seems pretty thin so I don’t know. Nonetheless, as much as Potato Head and Hamm are played with, they barely speak throughout the film, and this is telling.
So Woody has been put out to pasture, Bonnie Is largely indifferent to Buzz, and the rising stars within the hierarchy are Jessie (which might be ham-fisted nod to feminism’s ascendance), and Forkie, essentially a bastardization of what a toy is. As a mish-mash of unmatched parts, Forkie could be an allegorical for the most physically extreme elements of the LGBT movement; them Ts as Dave Chappelle put it. As well, we could view Forkie’s initial insistence on his being trash as an echo of the nihilism attendant upon the current younger generations. And it matters not that he seems content and happy to be trash; this current generation seems to think that nihilism is pretty nifty, and they comepete in their memes to be seem the most idsaffected.
So if this assignment of roles within Toy Story 4 is accurate, what can we glean from the conclusion of the film, where Woody ends up with Bo Peep after passing the torch to the younger generation? Here’s what I think:
We gotta trust the younger generation.
We gotta mentor the younger generation.
We gotta know when to be idealistic and when to be pragmatic.
If you find the right woman, let her go if your calling means more to you.
If the right woman comes back and your work is done, go out and be happy with her.
That’s what I got at least.