*Warning, floods of spoilers below*
Having successfully reduced the worlds male population to blubbering wrecks, Toy Story 3 (2010) is officially a beard-wetter, but has its tearful conclusion been overhyped? Andrew Collin’s thinks so, recently blogging that after expecting to be drowning in tears by the credits, he was left disappointed. But the hype has enhanced mine, and many others, experience of the film not through the emotional, but the narrative, expectations it creates. As long as you haven’t been told the specifics of the ending, only of the tears, you’re half expecting a Bambi’s mum moment. It’s rare to genuinely fear for the heroes’ life in a family film, but in Toy Story 3 the murky tone and mountainous peril in the second half, combined with any expectation of sadness you have when entering the film, make this fear very real.
From the moment Chuckles, the downbeat clown, recalls the tragic tale of how strawberry scented kingpin Lotso lost his huggable nature the tone darkens. Rain lashes down as Lotso finds out his beloved owner’s replaced him. This revelation reshapes Lotso, Chuckles and Big Baby into film noir archetypes, Big Baby also embodying healthy lashings of horror cliché’s. Toying with genre has always been a source of humour in Pixar films, and no opportunities are lost here, an exceptional example being when Woody answers a toy phone to a mysterious insider who is, in fact, the phone itself. Despite such sharp gags, the connotations noir conventions carry add to a looming unease.
The elaborate capers of the ensuing escape from the day care center continue to play with menacing devices, such as the positively manic screaming monkey. Exploration of lighter stereotypes balances the tone. Ken’s status as a girl’s toy is exploited by Barbie, torturing him as she rips his vintage cloths, while Buzz’s flamenco dancing around Jessie, and graceful leaps inherent to his Spanish mode, are comedic brilliance. As the toys escape, with only a bin between them and freedom, they are confronted by Lotso. Headlights pierce the night as a rubbish truck rumbles down the dusky street. The day care toys are persuaded to abandon Lotso, but we’re deprived of a premature happy ending as Lotso drags Woody into the bin, the others tumbling after them into the truck.
We enter the apocalyptic junkyard without the joys of Spanish Buzz and metrosexual Ken. The Aliens are viciously swept away, building a sense of impending Armageddon which is furthered as the remaining toys narrowly avoid a crushing, only to be set on course for a flaming inferno. Hoisted up by the others, Lotso passes up a last chance opportunity to save them, choosing instead a lonely life of bitterness. The bold culmination of this turbulent sequence comes as the toys accept their fate. Linking hands they prepare to die together, as friends. The audience collectively brace themselves. The final sentiment of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), the most emotional film ever, that ‘no man is a failure who has friends’, is echoed.
Like George Bailey, the toys are saved by heavenly intervention. The Aliens summon their God, ‘The Claw’, to the rescue, and a generation of children are spared years of nightmares. You realise you were stupid to think a family film could be so savage, and ease back into your chair. Five minutes later you’re fighting back the tears.