Why “Toy Story 3” Makes Me Cry Every Time

My children love movies (as I’ve written before; that post, by the way, still gets over 100 original views a day on average, far and away the most popular post I’ve ever typed!). So it was business as usual when Jon wanted to plop in front of the TV this morning and watch Toy Story 3.

Or, as he says, “I wan’ see Woodee an’ Buss?”

(That the request comes out in the form of a question is his attempt at psychological maneuvering. I honestly think Christopher Nolan got the idea for Inception from dealing with someone’s toddler.)

I sighed. I love Toy Story 3. I think it is one of the most beautifully animated and heartfelt movies ever made, but I hate to watch it because I cry every freaking time I see it. Happened again this morning – we got to the scene where Woody and the gang are slowly slipping to their doom in the garbage furnace, and as they do, the friends all join hands and lean into one another for comfort. Only Woody, in the center of the gang, holding them all together as always, faces their impending deaths alone. The way he closes his eyes and grimly accepts their collective fate just gets me.

The tears just came on their own. Rachel walked by and said, “Are you crying again?”

Yes. Yes I was. Because I can’t help it. The movie is just that good.

There’s a reason why Toy Story 3 makes me cry every time – it’s called parenthood. Having kids of my own, I’m acutely aware that every day that passes brings me that much closer to the end of my time with my kids. They are growing up, as evidenced by Jon’s rapidly expanding vocabulary and Ella’s writing and illustrating her first book.

(Seriously, Ella has written and illustrated a book. Sure, she copied pictures from a Clifford book and simply wrote descriptions of what she drew, but the fact that she cut out pages roughly the same size and tried to follow the same formatting for each page tells me that my little girl is really freaking smart. And talented. And perhaps adopted.)

I have noticed in my own children the sad, forgotten truth that the Toy Story franchise brings achingly to the fore: that the process of time is best observed through children and their toys. Even as Ella transitions away from some of her previously beloved toys, turning instead to crayons and paper and toys for older kids, I see that part of her past fading away like morning mist. And Jon’s the same – while he’s still into some baby toys, he’s asking for Spider-Man, Star Wars and other action figures that move beyond the Little People and their world.

Heck, the only baby toys he really plays with anymore are his Woody and Buzz figures (almost called them dolls).

Why does this franchise have such an impact on the culture (and me in particular)? Because it engages us in that forgotten place from childhood – our imagination. When our sense of pretend gets cranked up by watching Andy construct elaborate worlds with his toys – and then watch as those toys inhabit an elaborate world all their own – we cannot help but be transported back to those times in our own childhood when all we needed was the plastic warmth of a beloved toy and space in which to play.

And perhaps the reason we all go to those places so willingly is that they feel safe. The memory of them, that is. When you think about that favorite toy and how you used to play with it for hours (assuming you were fortunate enough to have such things; I know I was) there is a sense of security and protection that comes over you that belies even the very truth of what was going on around you at the time. Maybe mom and dad were fighting all the time, or maybe dad had walked out. Maybe you only had the one toy because you couldn’t afford any more. Maybe you were abused by someone you thought was nice. The fears and worries of childhood can be many.

But the safety represented by that toy, and your ability to escape via your imagination, could not be undone. It was the one place we could each go to escape whatever else was going on.

It was only after we got older, after we lost those places of safety and solitude, that we put away the toys and tried finding another refuge. Most of us found that there wasn’t really a better one to be had. Adult escapes are generally magnifications of our greatest weaknesses – whether it’s booze, pills, sex, the internet or something else, when we try to get away as adults we usually end up where we started.

So when I watch Toy Story 3 and sense the death of childhood innocence and safety as seen through Woody’s love for Andy, or the toys’ love for one another, I can’t help but shed a few tears for the lostness of my own childhood and the creeping loss of my children’s. Does it make me a pansy? Probably.

But it also forces me to get down on the carpet and play with my son in his world, instead of dragging him into mine. It makes me sit at the table with Ella and marvel at how excited she must feel as she sees her penmanship or artistic skill continually improve.

I cry because Toy Story taps into the truth of human existence: that we all face this world on our own, but we survive it through the company of good friends who inspire us to imagine, who help us discover new worlds, who are simply there when we need them.

And I guess I cry, too, because all too often those good friends are only made out of plastic, instead of flesh and blood.

But I’ll take them all the same. And I’ll love them as much as my kids do while my kids love them, because one day, they’ll represent that portion of my life which was simultaneously the most difficult and most beautiful: the precious few years I had with my daughter and son, just us, together and dreaming.

11 thoughts on “Why “Toy Story 3” Makes Me Cry Every Time

  1. Pixar just does that across the board for me. We watched Monsters, Inc. with the boys for the first time and I was hard pressed to think of a movie that better portrays becoming a dad than Sully learning to take care of Boo.

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    1. Ella and I were watching that the other day, and we both started crying the minute Sully take Boo back to her room (finally). Ella was crying because she was seeing things from Boo’s perspective (“I’m sad that she and Sully can’t stay together!”) and I was crying because I know one day, I’ll be in Sully’s shoes.

      I think I love Pixar because it has a heart, and isn’t afraid to remind us that we have one too.

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  2. That scene in Toy Story 3 also got to me the first time I saw it. You know what other movie also makes me feel like a terrible person? “Up”, especially the flashback scenes where he loses his wife to illness.

    I think I prefer my cartoons to involve roadrunners and falling anvils.

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    1. Oh – “Up” kills me every time as well. The first five minutes alone make me feel like the world’s worst spouse. Nothing sets up a movie like tears of shame flowing within seconds of the movie’s start…

      Still – that’s an incredible movie. And Ed Asner is priceless.

      “Squirrel!”

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  3. My, my – takes me back to “Milo and Otis”. Funny how you remember those things but I LOVED taking you guys to the movies. We had so much fun or at least I always did. I hope that’s a good memory for you, too! Enjoy every minute with Ella and Jon – be it a movie or just sitting in the floor giving hugs . It goes by so fast! Love ya. Mom

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    1. “Bound with me! Frolic with me!” Dudley Moore narrating a children’s film…classic.

      I’m learning to treasure each moment for what it’s worth, as well as the fact that some moments are more precious than others. 🙂

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  4. I know how it feels… I have a little sister who was in VIth grade and I used to kneel and talk with her, but just a few days back it suddenly hit me when she said “Bhaiya, (Brother in Hindi) I am in 10th standard…

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  5. Ive just found this site after watching TS3 with my Son….I totally agree with everything you say. Parenthood is unimaginably the most difficult (emotionally) challenge in life. My son is 12 in 2 weeks. 12?!?! Bloody 12?!?! Hes not quite hit the teen stage yet and I feel as though ; over the last 7 months since he started high school; that Im slowly ‘losing’ him :0( Hes just broken up from school for the easter holidays so we watched all 3 toy storys today.
    And like you, I cry because its a REAL reminder of childhood and innocence, and that pretty soon my son will be a man……..it really chokes me up, I hadnt really thought about it until he started high school. Hes already changed in 7 months! I think as parents, we hold our child when he/she first comes into the world, and in a way we wish their lives away; hoping for the first steos, first words, first day at school, and we becime sometimes so preoccupied with adult life we forget that childhood is THE most important time. As I type this and look back over the last 12 yrs I cannot believe how fast it has gone already, too fast :0( I remember people telling me it would, but during those first 4 yrs I didnt see it go fast as I was too concerned with every milestone…..He is my only child and the biological clock is telling me to do it all over again…..even after all the sleepless nights, worry and at times frustration of being a mum, I realise now I wouldnt change one thing. My only regret is that I didnt feel this way as he was a tiddler, so I could really make the most of EVERYTHING he has done……Pixar are amazing, in every film they make me realise that my son is soon going to lose that ‘wonder’ in his eyes as we watch a film together, in fact he wont want to watch a film with me pretty soon! And I’ll be left, watching Disney and Pixar; filled with memories of my little boy and his wonderful imagination. A wise word to other mums and dads: let your kids stay kids for as long as possible. I see so many parents wirh their 12 yr olds saying ‘oh grow up!’ …..why??!! So they too can join the rat race and stress of adult lufe? Give them a long and worry free childhood and let them watch as many Pixar films as they like, these movies really do teach lessons in life. :0)

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  6. Let me say this first I am a 16 male and I cry ever time I see this movie because Andy reminds me off me. Fore starters we both look the same and had the same inspiration in Cowboys and then space. I remember playing with all of my toys remembering how they all interacted together sometimes for days at a time. I still have all my child hood toy and will never get rid of them. This is probably my all time favorite movie.

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  7. Just watched toy story 3 after at least 5 years from the last time……I always cried at the end but cry more so bc my son is now 16 and had all those toys. Very hard as a parent to see a teenage boy now where a boy used to be…. And yes he still has buzz and woody on his shelf but barely looks at them…. SOB…….

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