The BEST: Toy Story
Reviewed by Tehilla Strauchler and Chaim Strauchler
Summary: The animated classic Toy Story (1995) depicts an imaginary world where toys are living things but pretend to be lifeless when humans are present. A group of toys, under the leadership of Sherriff Woody, must adjust when their owner, a boy named Andy, receives a new space-ranger action-figure, Buzz Lightyear. The premise that toys deeply want children to play with them and [that] this desire drives their hopes, fears, and actions guides the movie’s action. Buzz believes that he is a real space-ranger and must come to terms with his role as a toy in the movie’s universe. Woody, at first threatened by Buzz’s arrival, comes to welcome Buzz as a friend and partner in serving his purpose as a toy – to bring joy to his owner Andy.
Why this is the BEST: Toy Story, Pixar’s debut feature film, was the first entirely computer-animated 3D movie. Yet, in the realm of children’s entertainment, it was a radical departure not just in regards to technology. While such offerings for generations had instructed the child, as an individual, to overcome fear and pursue dreams (if not to marry Prince Charming), Toy Story champions classical virtues like friendship, kindness, and courage in the context of community. Woody risks his life and position as Andy’s favorite toy to save Buzz from Sid, the kid next door who enjoys mutilating toys.
As each toy fulfills its desire to entertain a child, it experiences a metaphysical happiness akin to love. In suggesting that characters might exist to serve any purpose (let alone making others happy), the film provides the religious parent with a rare educational tool. This sense of purpose seeps from the toys relationship towards children into the toys’ friendships with one another, and, potentially, from there into a young viewer’s relationship with other children. Children easily understand Woody’s jealousy over Buzz’s arrival, and as Woody’s sense of duty helps him change this emotion into friendship, the audience moves with him.
From this story platform, other ethical themes emerge over the series (there have been four Toy Story installments to date). The toys exist not as lonely protagonists in a personal narrative but in the context of a community and family of toys. Each film begins with the characters as “actors” in a drama of their child-owner’s playful imagination. After they leave their roles, the toys display leadership and responsibility for one another in their “real” toy lives, in addition to offering service to the child whose name is written upon the soles of their feet. Toys experience the fear of being rejected by one another and by their child, with ultimate rejection in the form of the black garbage bag.
Toy Story is the best children’s movie, because it not only entertains but also imaginatively teaches children timeless values.
Tehilla Strauchler will be a 10th grade student in the fall. Chaim Strauchler is rabbi of Shaarei Shomayim Congregation and an Associate Editor of TRADITION.
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[Published June 11, 2020]