Toy Story 2
Film Review by Ray Poggi, MD
Animation is the almost total creation of a world of beings and thus may represent the use of undisguised creative omnipotence to deal with themes that are so upsetting that they require a high degree of emotional invulnerability provided only these more artificial fantasies of creative power. From this perspective the use of actors tries to hide the use of fantasy and to make images seem real. Animation, on the other hand, hides the disturbing reality behind certain images but exposes the level of creative control required for us to be able to handle the experiences to which they allude.
Ostensibly, the animated form may be thought particularly useful in conveying to children in a reasonably safe way themes that, if presented too realistically, would be too upsetting for them. However, I think this is another conceit that allows us adults to distance ourselves even further from how much benefit we derive from the safety of the animated form when trying to grapple with some disturbing subjects.
Of course, humor is used in this particular animated feature as well. The images are not dark but light, and the surface charming not sinister. These are features of this animated film that may allow us to be somewhat unaware of the difficult themes with which Woody and the gang are struggling. The fully animated feature can also make use of darker aspects of imagined experiences to make some themes seem even more terrible than realistically depicted action can achieve. However, despite animation's capability for a hyperbolic depiction of trauma, that is, for creating quite terrifying images, I think that the animated film is nonetheless easier to experience as unreal compared to similar themes explored with real actors. It can be argued that the theme explored in Toy Story 2 with light images, a charming surface and engaging humor is fearsome enough for both kids and adults to benefit from being animated rather than acted.
The story opens with Woody, a cowboy doll, frantic because he is about to leave with his owner, a young boy, for camp. In the course of one last session of play before departing, Woodys arm is partially torn at the seam which joins it to his shoulder. The boy, disconsolate, drops Woody on a shelf and leaves. I couldnt tell at this point if the boy was unable to bear either the anxiety of playing with a damaged doll or feared worse could happen if he did take him. There seemed no time to repair him and Woody was left behind high on a shelf. This event sets in motion a serious of misadventures. First, on the shelf Woody encounters Penguin, a toy long thought lost forever who had been broken and placed on this shelf where Woody now found himself. In an effort to rescue Penguin from being sold at a garage sale, Woody almost gets sold himself to a greedy collector who eventually, unable to buy Woody, steals him. This character wants Woody in order to complete a collection of Woody-related toys so that he can sell them for a large amount of money to a Japanese toy museum. Woody, at first, has only one desire and that is to get back home to his owner. But he is persuaded to give up this idea when he considers the fame that will be his and that he will be like new forever behind glass at this prestigious and exotic Japanese museum. He is also persuaded by realizing that his new friends, Cow Girl and Stinky the Miner, will be condemned to live forever in the dark; packed away and unused. However, when his friends arrive and he explains all this to them and they leave, he is overcome with his desire to be with them and thinks of another way. He will take his new friends with him to the museum. However, Stinky doesnt want to be once again relegated to second or even fourth banana (behind Woody, Cow girl and Woodys horse). He wants fame and immortality. Of course he is thwarted and all concerned get their just reward or punishment.
The various issues here are immortality versus accepting the wear and tear and mutability of time, love and relationships. The pursuit of power and wealth in this context seems to be an effort to thwart vulnerability and mortality. Is it better to be preserved perfectly but unused forever or is it better to be used and worn out, even face being discarded, than live behind glass, unchanged and unused, for an eternity? Of course, the answer this film provides is that the latter is worth the risks. With the ending, everyone gets exactly what they want in a moment of celebration that has a certain manic note to it since no real answer is provided for how to cope with such a future. That isnt quite true. The answer provided is that relationship is the answer and that omnipotent solutions lead to corruption and ultimately futile attempts to beat time and mortality.
Toy Story 2 is popular for many reasons: it is a well told story, the characters are well drawn and there is also the excellent use of an astonishing new animation technology. However, most heartening is the reassurance that the way we all must live our lives--subject to loss, change and death--is the best way to live. Most of us lack the means, both power and money, to bulwark ourselves against vulnerability with things and to gratify every whim that the film holds out as an option to suffering mortality. Most of us cannot and do not wish to live a schizoid existence in our self-created, completely artificial reality; we prefer the pains and joys of real life. However, we are surrounded by examples of people who seem to be trying to create such a life with all the material means at their disposal. Michael Jackson certainly comes to mind as someone trying to stop time. The very rich and now even the near rich in their extraordinary mansions and in their extraordinary remodeled faces and bodies come to mind as well. We all seem to move from place to place with surprising frequency and change our look in clothes if not in body. Americans are renowned for changing partners with surprising frequency no matter our financial class. Perhaps this is in part an attempt to remain forever in control of our destiny. It looks so tempting at times to go down the path of creating our own animation of life through all these purchases and surgeries, relocation's and re-partnering. We do need, therefore, an occasional well done story which succeeds in affirming that, despite the terrors of submitting to mortality and the pains and unpredictable joys of life, living life for a while is better than being locked up and admired behind glass forever.
© Ray Poggi 2005.