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Ann Handley Headshot

Open Letter to MPAA Re: Toy Story 3

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toy-story-3-trailerDear Motion Picture Association of America:

I'm freshly back from the theater after seeing Toy Story 3, which prompts me to ask: A G-rating? Seriously? I haven't been this disturbed since the Turkish prison scenes in Midnight Express (which was rated R, by the way).

In the first two Toy Story movies, the happy relationship between a young boy named Andy and his toys acted as the backdrop. In Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3, Andy is packing for college, and the story leaves the toys to fend for themselves in a world where there’s no longer anyone to care for them.

It's not that the movie was mis-rated. Devoid of sex or gore, it is a kid's movie. Technically.

But what it stirs up in movie-goers is anything but juvenile: Essentially abandoned by a grown-up Andy, it's up to the desperate, panicked toys to find not just a new home, but a way to recapture their raison d'etre : The simple joy and richness of being loved best by a child.

The unspoken premise is this: Nothing lasts forever, and in the end you're either the deserted or the one deserting. (Also: because this is a kid's movie, Pixar tosses us a bone: Don't fret too much; you'll eventually find someone else who is almost as good as the original. But it'll be hell - hell! — getting there.)

So, Motion Picture Association, you could have warned me. Toy Story 3 is tragically under-rated — in the sense of sketchily explained, resulting in a whole audience of popcorn-munching Americans who will suddenly be caught off guard for that scene when Woody, Buzz, Ham, and the rest of the toys — trapped on a garbage incinerator's conveyor belt — hold hands in heartbreaking resignation as they brave a certain fiery death, and in that moment you forget that they are not just toys but cartoon toys, and you bawl like a baby at the desperate humanity laid bare on their digital faces.

And that was just one scene of several: The scene where Woody leaves for college....? The mix of wisdom and acceptance that flickers across the faces of the toys as they watch him drive off down the road, which signals a silent acknowledgment about the nothing-lasts-forever bit? It will destroy you. Unless you are made of stone.

I've admittedly been in a melancholy mood lately, what with the fledgling kid about to take flight and the situation with the one-eyed dog. So maybe it's just me. But I don't think so. As the credits rolled, only a few people (possibly robots) jumped up and made their way immediately to the exit, instead of taking what the rest of us needed, and had earned: a sensible few minutes to pat our faces dry and collect ourselves before shuffling out.

Then as we left the theater, my daughter — who tends to sprout hives when she's really upset — could manage to only scratch broodingly and shake her head no at me when I asked her what she thought. My son said simply, "Why did we have to see that?" in a ponderous tone. He sunk into silence for the rest of the car ride home, no doubt remembering his previously carefree existence. And by "previously" I mean like 2 hours before, when the frailty of us all wasn't quite so palpable.

When my daughter was younger, she'd self-police her entertainment options. A grade school friend would call and invite her to a matinee, and she'd say, "Sorry. But that movie has mild thematic elements. How about we see...?" And then she'd name another film more in line with her middle-aged sensibilities. She picked that up from reading the cautionary footnotes your association uses to elucidate and rate a film’s content suitability for certain audiences. (Like: "May be too intense for younger audiences" or "Contains mild thematic elements not appropriate for younger viewers.")

So I'm thinking that some films could carry similar cautionary footnotes to a prescribed rating, because frankly, I could have used an elucidating footnote prior to the movie today. On Toy Story 3, for example, you might consider: "Caution: Contains mild thematic elements not appropriate for older viewers." Or: "May be too intense: The sensitive and overwrought strongly cautioned." Or perhaps: "Attention parents of graduating seniors: You might want to skip this one and go straight to dinner instead."

Pixar is long overdue for this kind of action, in fact. The last animated film that similarly unhinged me was also a Pixar flick; specifically, the "Married Life" montage from Up. Haven't seen it? Let me summarize: Two adorable kids marry with dreams of a life together, then eventually things don't work out exactly the way they envisioned, and one of them ends up sad and alone.

Which leads to the inevitable question: Is that a cartoon - or is that life?

Thanks for your consideration.