There’s something to be said about comic books belonging exclusively to one’s childhood, and Toy Story seemed to have conveyed that perfectly.
I was recently struck with a supreme irony from the world of movies and the comment and opinion about them. I don’t know if you saw Bill Maher’s defence of his blog post about the outpouring of grief following Stan Lee’s death. If you didn’t follow it at the time Maher used the occasion to upbraid just about everyone for being so in love with comics and their characters and thinking they’re on a par with great art and literature.
Agree or disagree with Maher (and judging by the box office receipts of most recent Marvel movies, most disagree with him), you’ve got to admire the guy’s bravery to stand up against what’s basically a global consensus at this point.
It reminded me of when Roger Ebert, showing either incredible guts or staggering wrong-headedness, said video games weren’t art or when Simon Pegg, who’s benefited from the world of entertainment comic books has spawned like few others, worried about the ‘infantilisation’ of the world through our pop culture.
Whether you agree with Maher or not, it’s hard to argue with one particular point. Comic books were originally conceived as entertainment for children, and there is a cultural precedent that when we reach whatever point in our lives enables the onset of adulthood, we’re supposed to put kids’ things away. Maher even references one of his favourite targets (religion) to say as much.
I have a theory about why we collectively love comics nowadays. It’s got to do with Generation X being the first one to grow up without the same strict predestined path Boomers did of getting a career for life, marrying and having kids in their mid 20 and therefore not ever having to really grow up at all, but it’s the subject of a much longer discussion that has nothing to do with cinema.
But here’s the supreme irony. While we all line up for one comic book movie after another (the Star Wars saga just as much as the MCU, as well as all their homages and hangers-on), it was a kids’ movie that understood the progression of putting childish things away when we grow up.
I’m talking about Toy Story. The reason the primary narrative ended with Toy Story 3 (Toy Story 4 was an add on regardless of its quality) was because Andy, the kid who owned the toys, grew up and didn’t want to play with toys any more. He handed them off to a new kid, but that’s a reincarnation metaphor the same way the Toy Story arc is a death metaphor.
The toys understand their time with Andy would come to an end and spent their lives fretting about it just like we do about the end of our own lives. It was actually portrayed more than once in the franchise, like when cowgirl Jesse joins the gang and tells them all about tale of woe at being cast aside when her owner grew up.
Remember the sequence of the dresser and drawers going from being covered with toy horses and books to make-up and music posters? Somewhere online there’s undoubtedly a fan theory about Jesse being Satan, tempting Woody and the gang to eat from the tree of life and thus learn about the impending deaths they had no idea were coming for them one day.
So while almost every other movie is about the panels of comic books made flesh before us, enthralled in our eternal childhoods, Toy Story was about children growing up and losing interest in children’s stuff. With the benefit of hindsight from the comic book-saturated world we live in, I think that was unwittingly insightful.
At the movies recently, there aren’t many films I know instinctively I’m going to consider the best movie in a given year when the credits have barely rolled (hell, these days I’m hard pressed to find a favourite movie in a given year at all), but Todd Phillips’ Joker was a singular cinema experience.
It was a long time coming but I caught up with an arthouse classic in Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and quite dug the technical artistry.
But one more quick shout out to cool (almost icy) gay positive feminist love story horror metaphor Thelma, which has such an assured hand and conveys the warmth of its message with such quiet stillness without cheap scares it wrong foots you completely.
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