Dear Motion Picture Association of America:
I’m freshly back from the theater after seeing Toy Story 3. One question: A G-rating? What were you thinking? I haven’t been this disturbed since the Turkish prison scenes in Midnight Express.
The first two Toy Story movies centered on the happy relationship between a young boy named Andy and his toys. 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 one to care for them.
It’s not that the movie was mis-rated. No sex. No violence. It is a kid’s movie.
Orrrrr…. is it?
Because here’s what happens: Abandoned by a grown-up Andy, the desperate, panicked toys have to not only find a new home, but also 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. But 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 – pure. freaking. hell! — getting there.
Motion Picture Association, you could have warned me about Toy Story 3.
Toy Story 3 is tragically under-rated. Now a whole audience of Americans 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.
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 (robots?) jumped up and made their way immediately to the exit, instead of taking what the rest of us needed: a sensible few minutes to pat our faces dry and collect ourselves before shuffling out.
As we left the theater, my daughter — who sprouts 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 life 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 something like sorry. But that movie has mild thematic elements. How about we see this instead…?
She’d 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 we all 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.
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. Things don’t work out exactly the way they envisioned. They’re mostly happy anyway. Until one of them ends up bereft and alone.
Which leads to the inevitable question: Is that a cartoon – or is that life?
Thanks for your consideration,
Steve Woodruff says
OK, but now we're going to need a similar rating for blog posts…especially when they involve certain dogs and their ocular challenges! (the first of your Annarchy posts that I could not bring myself to tweet to others) :>}
Lara Dickson says
This is most profound 'review' I've seen on Toy Story – and now I will not only go see it, but probably with some skepticism, and Kleenex. Thanks for sharing, Ann.
Lara: I'm so glad you said you said that this review made you want to see it — I wouldn't have missed it for the world, really. But yeah.. bring Kleenex. A box, perhaps.
Awww. Sorry. Of course you'd feel that way! : )
This was not on my list until today many thanks for the warning and profound review. 🙂
Charles Brown says
I haven't seen TS3 yet, but thanks for the heads up. I remember when I saw the montage in UP I was really moved by it and thought it was a little deep for the kids it was intended for.
Maybe Pixar is really targeting big kids like me. I like being moved without being played (a point on which Up succeeded admirably). I like sophistication, but also like a good, fast-moving story.
The fact is that maybe the folks at Pixar are a little too good in their trade of storytelling. They plumb emotional depths that might not be for kids.
MarketingProfs Team says
Kleenex are a must! I did not expect the movie to hit me the way it did.
ok, should I see it, or not?
Totally. But you are warned.
Jen DelMonaco says
Thank you, THANK YOU for this post! When S had LM's sleepover and the hubs was out of town, I decided to take my 7-yr old to this the much-thumbs up'ed movie. She was HYSTERICAL with fright at the incinerator scene, openly bawling when that horrible pink teddy didn't do the right thing and stop the conveyor belt of doom, and the list goes on. I kept saying out loud that I couldn't BELIEVE this was G-rated Pixar, but no one could hear me, because we were all ripped off paying an extra $13 for IMAX which did not enhance the visuals but made the audio ridiculously loud. We also drove home shocked to the core and couldn't come up with anything good to say about it. Here's what I got: those who should see it (teens about to leave the nest) won't, for the most part, those who will see it (children 3 and up) should not by any means! Up at least had subtlety and laugh out loud moments: TS3 had this for take aways: as you said in your blog, in the end you're alone, so just deal with it, those who you would expect to do the right thing won't; broken baby dolls and cymbal-playing monkeys are horrifying, Ken is super-gay.
Corina Mackay says
Great review! I have to agree that it was much more emotional and hard-hitting than I expected. My sister and I bawled like babies, but her 6- and 8-year-old kids were fine. Our car ride home was filled with laughter and squeals, as we collectively recounted the edge-of-your-seat tension of the conveyor belt scene, my correct predictions about the true intentions of that not-so strawberry-sweet bear, and the hilarity of Buzz's Spanish mode.
I can understand the message you (and many others, it seems) have taken from the film, but I think there are other ways of looking at it, too, such as:
– Life is full of transitions, such as going to college, and it's up to you how you handle those transitions
– Sometimes you have to let things go, in order to move on with your life (remember Andy finding Woody in the donation box, and not wanting to let him go?)
– Just because you don't need or want something any more doesn't mean it's trash
– You can only be there for someone as long as they need you to
– and finally, strawberries aren't always sweet.
Corina: I like the way you think, and I believe you are absolutely right. That said, that perspective doesn't come easily to me… but I could use to adopt your view a little. So.. thanks. 🙂
“Just because you don't need or want something any more doesn't mean it's trash.” Love it.
I am so so so glad that I did not see this movie. I am almost in tears hearing your story of seeing it. Like your daughter, even when young I was very careful what I allowed myself to watch because it lived with me forever after…heck, I still remember in the movie Patton where they shot the old man's donkey's for being in the way on the bridge. Was that really necessary!! My 14 year old loves and can handle violence but can't watch “Series of Unfortunate Events” or like movies. He explained it to me as we left Unfortunate 30 minutes after it started?”Mom whats funny about kids loosing there house and parents.” Uh, yhea. Toy story. Might be great for some…but not for me.
Karen Talavera says
Oh crap, sounds like life rather than a cartoon. Aren't cartoons where we go for escape – albeit temporarily and often deservedly – from said life?
Maybe Pixar should leave the heavy lifting to a different studio brand. I associate animation with levity and I like my association. Maybe I'll skip this one. I have enough moments of heartbreaking resignation on the event horizon as it is, and frankly, they can stay right there – out on the horizon – for now.
I agree, the “Up” marriage montage was a downer but at least the misery was over at the start. (Plus I watched that movie on some long haul international flight so I was half jet-lagged out of my mind . . .) What every happened to ending on a high note?
You have succinctly explained what might be at the root of my recently ex-first grader's bout of insomnia (loss of school and buddies for 3 months, notwithstanding).
She saw the movie as a guest at a birthday party on opening day 2 weeks ago and was unable to fall asleep that night. She was terrified by the garbage incinerator scene described by one of your commenters (haven't seen the movie yet) and deeply troubled by the losses.
Since then, she has not been able to fall asleep in her usual easy manner, and I can only assume that, being both sensitive and emotionally expressive, she is experiencing what must feel like some kind of existential crisis.
And like you, I am in a reflective mood, noting that my chicklet is needing her mommy bird less and less. While I celebrate her development and fierce independence, I can't help my acute awareness of the passage of time. When I realize that my ability to resolve her dilemmas and soothe her stress is now largely out of my hands (beyond normal mommying), I too wonder how I would handle my existential crisis it sounds like this movie generates.
The song “Slipping Through My Fingers” from Mamma Mia had me sobbing tonight as we gathered around for family night movies.
I'm not ready to be reminded just how fragile and fleeting it all is!
Amen. They should hand out tissues with the 3-D glasses. My 4-year-old was urging us to leave as soon as the credits started rolling. I was trying my best to get him interested in Buzz's dancing so I could collect myself. And don't get me started on Up!
Tobias S. says
That seals it… I'm going to skip this one and keep my streak (haven't seen any of the Toy Story movies) alive and well. But I have to ask – are you really arguing for a new layer of movie information… when all you have to do is read any of the countless reviews on a dozen platforms out there in the great social media milieu? Hey, all you had to do was ping your Twitter legions… a simple “what didya think of Toy Story 3?” tweet, and, boom, done. You would've had all the “fair warning” you could've asked for…
Thanks for the warning. I was looking forward to an update on Buzz and Woody, but don't think my heart could take this sad flick.
Donna Jolly says
“and you bawl like a baby at the desperate humanity laid bare on their digital faces. . .” Ann, you are a damn good writer. My better-half has been wanting to see this and after reading your review, I'm motivated. Thank you.
Judith A Manriquez says
What a great write-up! I so enjoy reading and sharing with you. Thanks.
Dawn Nicole Baldwin says
Egad. We were looking forward to seeing this one & hadn't yet. Granted, I started tearing up when I saw the commercials the first time, so perhaps I have a bit of a masochistic bent.
That bad, eh? Our son also just graduated & was a toddler when the original hit the screens. I have been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster about all of this [and also sobbed inconsolably during UP]
Sounds like I should just wait for the DVD, stock up on Kleenex & drown my tears in a pint of cookies & cream in the privacy of our living room.
Thanks for the heads up 🙂
Corina Mackay says
You're welcome! I hope you like it more on the DVD round. 🙂
Dave Fluegge says
Haven't seen Toy Story 3, but heard the same thing from others. I have seen UP, and after the first 15 minutes I was feeling depressed. The shock of being in the mindset of typical Pixar humor made it even more of a shock to my system, and almost made me want to turn it off. Love Pixar movies, but now I approach them with caution.
Tabitha Dunn says
My7 year old daughter loved the movie but the incinertor theme had her gripping my arm in panic and asking for reassurance that all would be well. Considering my experience with Happy Feet (also a movie that deserved a warning label), I hesitated before reassuring her that all would be well. And let me tell you, she has quite a mad on for that purple teddy bear. “He doesn't deserve their friendship and the second chance they gave him, Mommy.” So true, my girl, so true…
Adam Zand says
Totally agree. My guy (born in 1999 when TS 2 came out) struck the cool pose on leaving the theater, but I was approaching tears on the 3-D glasses.
My oldest was five when the original came out and the perfect target audience for, it turns out, TS1 and TS3! To say that it didn't resonate for both of us… well, it did.
Did you see the “authentic” 1983-style commercial Pixar made to promo TS3 featuring our pal Lotso?
I love them too… but a little warning, you know?! ; )
True. But then what would I have to write about? : )
Funny Katybeth & Karen — I'm the same way. I generally avoid movies that are more depressing than my actual life. I did love TS3, but could have used a warning….
Dave Fluegge says
Absolutely, I think Pixar needs its own sub-rating system to prepare us. Rated WU – Funny like Wall-E yet heart wrenching like UP.
Derek K. Miller says
Does no one remember Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimms? Have our kids become so fragile they must have stories that are happiness and light and nothing else? And are we now such milquetoast parents that we can't help them when a movie might frighten them a little, and maybe they might learn something about life from it? Doesn't anyone remember Sid the toy-dismembering neighbor and the evil toy collector from the first two Toy Story movies? Isn't poignancy good, even for our children—something that makes a film last?
You have a very good point, and I agree with you. I know about the traumatic events in the first two movies. I forgot about the greedy toy store owner and the kidnapping. I do enjoy the Toy Story movies a lot as an adult, because they can get so deep. Some sad moments are good for help getting the point across. I gave a comment about my thoughts on the matter. I felt like being the devil’s advocate. Now I know that with your comment, I am not alone. 🙂
This is a terrific piece, but it dismays me that it seems to be persuading folks not to see this amazing movie.
Pixar movies are evolving. Never content to be the standard-bearer for animated technology and quality, they've advanced the nature, structure, possibilities – and the marketing – of animated movies through the creation of amazing characters, multi-layered stories and emotional rollercoasters made for adults and kids. Of any studio making animated features – which has always been a movie art form; just not one traditionally rewarded for its OVERALL (i.e., not just pretty pictures) artistry – the filmmakers of Pixar represent the very best chance of breaking free from the “it's just an animated film” mentality to instead represent “this is purely extraordinary filmmaking.” It's no small feat.
With all respect, instead of “Pixar should inform us what we're in for” I'd suggest “when we see a Pixar movie, we should understand that more will be offered to us than we might expect”. That is not a good thing; it's a GREAT thing.
Someone in the comments suggests “Maybe Pixar should leave the heavy lifting to a different studio brand.” That would be a shame. There's just about no one better in Hollywood doing this kind of heavy lifting.
Pixar is free to “evolve” their movies all they want, but if TS3 is any indication, they’re going to have to stop marketing them to children. This was not a children’s movie, even though it’s being used to sell toys. My wife and I agreed TS3 was the most disturbing “kids” movies we have ever screened. Because we love them, our children will never see it. If this had been a live action film with real people, it would have been considered an action/horror movie and received a PG-13 rating at a minimum. The disturbing scenes throughout were unnecessary
and offensive. Watching the toy bear bully a toy baby, including hitting in the chest with his stick in anger? Watching a toy monkey with bulging eyes scream and hiss at the other toys and sit on Woody while violently beating him in the head with his cymbals? Watching the horror on the toys’ faces as they are about to be burned in an incinerator? Putting that garbage in a “children’s” movie was sick. Whoever decided to market that psychological trama to kids should be prosecuted, not praised.
I couldn't agree more, Alan. In part, this was a tongue-in-cheek piece… calling for new MPAA ratings is a silly idea, and the title alone “not suitable for older…” kinda makes fun of the whole concept.
I love TS 3, and I love Pixar movies. If anything, I was celebrating Pixar's ability to move me — a supposed grownup! — with its “cartoons.” I definitely hope folks see TS3 and any and all Pixar productions!
I got – and quite enjoyed – your intent! But a number of commenters responded with a desire NOT to see it, which caused me to have one of those Very Cinematic “NOOOOOOO…!”-type reactions.
Hilarious. I couldn't agree more… my husband and i sat in the theater with our 4 year old and 6 year old dumbfounded at the G rating. My four year old sat on my lap whispering for most of the movie, “Mommy, I'm scared. I don't like this movie”. G rating? I don't recall that reaction during Horton Hears a Who or Curious George (both G rated). Anyway, thanks again for your insights. Very funny.
Poigncnacy is good, when done in a way that captures the heart and mind of a child. You think this movie did that? This movie was rated G (suitable for all ages). Do you know many five year olds reading Hans Christian Andersen? And yes, I guess I am that milquestoast parent you speak of if that means I am a parent who chooses to protect the fragile and fleeting innocence of a 5 year old. He will read Hans soon enough. He will know dark poignancy soon enough. Today, I'd like to preserve, if just for a moment, his belief that life isn't scary.
Just saw this movie with my 7-year old. Wish I hadn't. He cried throughout the incinerator scene, as I consoled him. Much too intense! What was Pixar thinking? Afterwards when asked about the movie, he had a list of things he didn't like about the movie. I really don't think was a movie aimed for a G audience. They certainly caught us off guard.
This may be true, but you're forgetting about the feelings that movies are meant to evoke. I would have really enjoyed this movie on my own, as there were some really great laughs, etc, but through the eyes of a child, and the connections they have with their toys, it would be pretty disturbing. I'll be telling all my mom friends not to take their children to this movie.
Jim Sutton says
I am a returning subscriber here. Thanks for writing this post. Our 2 year-old grandchildren have seen at least Toy Story 1, which was shown to them by a day-care provider. I appreciate your “warning” about Toy Story 3 as they mention Buzz and Woody frequently. There is the point that fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel are equally disturbing in thematic content. That brings up the point of reading a story versus seeing it in a movie.
I agree this movie was a bit strong for young kids but i think pixae qas aiming at rhe kids who first saw the movie in 1995 who are now adults. I dont think the movie was intended for our 3 and 4 years olds
Just watched it for the first time. About 20 minutes in to the movie, I said this isn’t a G rating. My 2 1/2 year old said a couple of times that she’s scared. If a 3.5 and up watched that, they’d be balling. Terrible rating. At the least it’s an elevated PG. I would’ve walked out if at the theater.
In my opinion Toy Story 3 wasn’t that bad. It is actually on par with the other two Toy Story movies in terms of being kid-friendly. The real problem I have is that the rating system has been so inconsistent. The first Toy Story movie came out in the 90s. I know the Disney movies of the time, very well, because that is when I was a kid. Back then animated movies were usually rated G. Yet they still had a lot of thematic elements. Back then it took an animated movie a lot more effort to be graphic enough to get a PG rating. I think of it as a time when PG meant something. Toy Story is a good example. It has disturbing scenes of Sid torturing and blowing up sentient toys. There are disfigured and mute toys in his room. Woody and Buzz both have existential crises. They were in great danger being left behind, when Andy moves. Despite all of this Toy Story is still G rated. Toy Story 2 came out towards the end of the 90s. The movie still fits with the trend. There is a major idea of toys falling apart and being abandoned by their owners. The experience starts to happen to Woody. Jessie has a tragic backstory of being abandoned. Despite this Toy Story 2 is still G rated. Toy Story 3 is just about as traumatic as the other two. There is issues of abandonment, death and political corruption. The ratings board, MPAA, probably gave it a G rating to fit it better with the previous movies. The problem is that in modern times the PG rating has changed. Cartoon movies on the whole have not been more graphic than they used to be. Yet they are often rated PG. This is very inconsistent. It is biased in favor of whichever rating can attract the biggest audience and gain more sales. Maybe modern audiences have been so used to G rating being perfectly clean, that they are shocked to find that some G rated movies are a tad bit risqué. You seem upset that Toy Story 3 is unfairly rated G. I have the opposite problem. I get upset when movies nowadays are unfairly rated PG. I am so used to the way G used to be, that going against it seems wrong. Examples of this include Frozen, Inside Out and Moana. Even the My Little Pony Movie got a PG. Never mind that the tv show is so clean and child-friendly. I swear, if any of those movies came out in the olden days, they would have been rated G instead. Both of us have opposite problems with the rating system. Yet they are still linked to the problem of inconsistency. It would be better if the MPAA would have a more strict and objective system, and stick with it. There needs to be more consistency.
Jen DelMonaco – Where do you get the ridiculous idea that teens wouldn’t watch this movie but little kids would? The movie is aimed directly at teens and adults who grew up watching the other two movies. My entire high school class at the time watched it and I’ve never been at a theater showing where any audience members were under 15. The previews were even for PG-13 and R movies.
People in this thread (and the OP) seem to have a serious mental block in assuming that “animated” equals “Kiddie Baby Movie” unless it’s raunchy and full of genital humor. Animation and live-action are just visual mediums, like choosing to make a painting with acrylic paint or watercolor. Medium has nothing to do with the content.
Toy Story is a general-ages movie, not a strictly kids’ movie (as opposed to something like Horton Hears a Who or Curious George as another commenter referenced), meaning that it’s appropriate for kids in the G-rating sense (no violence or overtly sexual stuff, as that’s all the ratings judge) but is meant to entertain adults as well – and not just in the “haha here’s a joke only adults will get” way. It’s not meant for toddlers for Pete’s sake. I’m surprised that none of the parents here bothered to research the movie before watching it, considering that you all obviously have internet access.
The OP and commenters can’t go three words without mentioning in shock that it’s a “cArToOn!!11!11!” as though its so unusual for something animated to have a complex plot, scary moments, or high stakes. If this movie was exactly the same but in live-action, would you react like this? Try watching The Brave Little Toaster, The Iron Giant, or a Don Bluth film and you’ll realize that an animated film is not the same thing as a “cartoon” where people throw pies and fart on each other.