With their beloved owner, Andy, all grown up and about to leave for college, Woody, Buzz and the rest of Andy’s toys must face the inevitable truth that their journey with Andy has come to an end. When a tragic twist of fate causes the toys to be thrown out with the trash rather than tucked safely in the attic, this misunderstanding compels the toys to donate themselves to a daycare center. Alas, what seems like a dream come true soon turns into a terrible nightmare and the toys soon realize that their home with Andy is truly where they belong.
Why do we hold onto the memories and keepsakes from our childhood? I believe the reason is more than sentimental nostalgia. We cling to these memories because they remind us of a time when life was simple and happy. We cherish them because they provide us with a place to go when things get tough. I think that is why Andy held onto Woody and Buzz and the rest of the toys even though he was long past the time in his life when he played with them. Even though he is growing up and moving on to a new chapter in his life, he doesn’t want to say goodbye to the memories that he shared with these toys when he was a child.
Perception is a powerful theme in this film. When Andy’s toys are accidentally thrown out with the trash, they believe that Andy doesn’t love them anymore and this impression is the catalyst which compels them to donate themselves to Sunnyside Daycare. When the toys reach Sunnyside, their initial impression of their new home is that Sunnyside is a sanctuary where they will be loved by children forever. Their joy is soon turned to horror when they realize that the playtime they have dreamed of for so long has been replaced by what can only be described as a nightmare. Rather than the playtime of the past, which was, for lack of a better word, fun, the toys are now being played with by children who are too young and whose method of play is more akin to torture. Their nightmare only grows worse when the toys realize the truth about what really happened at Andy’s house and Lotso, the self-proclaimed leader of the daycare toys, imprisons them and forces them to remain at the mercy of the toddlers when they express to him their desire to return home.
While Lotso is portrayed as the antagonist in the film, I think his vicious attitude stems not from pure malice, but rather from a broken heart. When Woody and his friends meet Lotso at Sunnyside, their first impression of him is that he is a warm and friendly character who genuinely cares about the toys in the daycare. When the toys express to Lotso their desire to return home, his jovial attitude quickly vanishes and is replaced with unabashed hostility. We later learn the reason for Lotso’s cruel and unforgiving nature. Before he came to Sunnyside, Lotso’s past was not so different from Woody’s. He, too, had a child who loved him unconditionally, but a tragic twist of fate caused them to be separated when the child’s family goes for a drive and he is accidentally left behind. When Lotso finally finds his child again, he is heartbroken to discover that he has been replaced. Vowing that he will never again feel the pain of being forgotten, Lotso hides his broken heart beneath a mask of hostility.
I think the reason that Woody chose to remain behind with the other toys rather than with Andy is after he said goodbye to his friends, he sees a photograph in the box that Andy is taking to college. The photograph isn’t the picture of Andy with his mom and sister that Woody saw at the beginning of the film; it was the picture of Andy playing with the toys. I think this moment is significant because it is in this moment that Woody realizes that even though Andy was growing up and moving on, those memories that they shared together in childhood would never be forgotten. When Andy gives the toys to a little girl named Bonnie rather than putting them in the attic, this was his way of saying goodbye to his childhood and making sure that his toys would be loved and cared for even though he was gone.
I was 11 years old when the first “Toy Story” film was released, and like Andy, I have literally grown up with these films. As I watched “Toy Story 3” again, I was stunned by how deeply emotional I became as I watched the characters I had grown to love embark on this journey, and I am not ashamed to admit that I watched the last 15 minutes of this movie in tears. The “Toy Story” trilogy is about as close to perfection as visual storytelling can get. The animation is absolutely stunning, the casting is perfect, particularly for Tom Hanks and Tim Allen who play Woody and Buzz, and the message that is woven into the story is one that both children and adults can understand because we have all lived it at some point in our own lives. If you enjoy a good animated film, then the “Toy Story” trilogy is one that I would highly recommend.