What made Toy Story 3 great was more than just colorful characters and great graphics, though those were certainly in abundance. What made Toy Story 3 great was a strict adherence to some basic story principles, and those principles can also make a life great. I’ll create a short, incomplete list:
1. We knew exactly what the characters wanted. There wasn’t a scene in the movie when we didn’t know what the principles characters wanted. Whether it was to escape the daycare, or get back to Andy, or find a new home, the ambition was clearly defined. And because it was defined, the audience sat wondering how the characters were going to get what they wanted, rather than wondering what it is the characters were trying to accomplish.
2. The characters were good. A constant theme through the movie is family, brotherhood, and a sense that under no circumstances would they separate. They were in the adventure as a team, weak or strong, and they would live or die as a team.
3. The point was love. This may be the most powerful force in the movie, and one of the reasons the Toy Story franchise has made billions. The sole ambition of the group of protagonists was that they love each other, and that they get back to the service of the one who loved them and whom they loved in return. It’s an age-old theme, but it’s powerful and it triggers a remarkably meaningful response in almost all of us.
4. The antagonist was clearly defined. The Toys knew exactly who was against them, and so they knew whom they were trying to escape from. The audience is not left to wonder who the bad guy is because it was made clear. The interesting thing is the bad guy was bad because he had been hurt and couldn’t trust anymore, and so couldn’t love. He was controlling and wanted to be in charge and enslave people. The Toys still gave him the benefit of the doubt, but once he was proven bad, they decided to escape. An entire study could be done on the bad guy in the film, and the dynamics that surround him. The toys did not seek vengeance, for instance, they simply sought to be out from under the bad guys thumb. And toward the end, they even tried to redeem the bad guy.
5. The ambition is realized. The final scene of the film is incredibly powerful. The Toys, who intensely desired to be played with by their owner, actually got what they wanted. The writers at Pixar were setting up the final scene all along, even bringing in extra characters early on in the movie to make it happen. And man does it pay off. I doubt there was a person in the theater that wasn’t fighting back tears. It’s a heavenly scene, for sure.
There is, without question, a very real spiritual overlap in this movie. The Toys want to be reunited with their owner. Their owner loves them. Something has come between their owner and they are confused about whether their owner still loves them. It’s powerful stuff, and it’s relatable because it’s true.
So what do we do with this in our own lives? Tomorrow I’ll talk about the kinds of stories we can tell based on the overall narrative we are living within.