Toy Story 3: Buried Alive

July 1st, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  9 Comments

Pixar’s Toy Story 3, which I took the kids to see this weekend, does not lack for praise. Richard Corliss, a serious and sober reviewer at Time, called it an “instant classic.” I know this because the Daily Herald wrote a whole piece about all the (clichéd) superlatives chasing the movie.

The third Toy Story film, it catches up with Woody, Buzz, and his other animated toy-friends as they cope with the fact that their owner, Andy, has grown up and doesn’t need them anymore. It’s emotionally rich material, mined well by the film. And the action sequences are pretty fantastic. So my qualitative review is: go see it. We paid $50 for a family of four for our tickets—popcorn not included—and it might have actually been worth it (although if you bring a 2-year-old to the 3D version, as I did, expect him to be a little startled at first, and then, 10 minutes in, quite bored with wearing the 3D glasses).

That’s the good news. The bad news, especially for New Yorkers living in cramped quarters, is that this is basically a movie about how you should never ever throw your toys out, because they have beautiful and easily wounded little souls.

Toy Story 3, like any well-told tale, corners you into identification and sympathy with the protagonist’s worldview. And in this case, the good guys’ living nightmare is the prospect of being sent to the dump. They are plastic toys, mind you, but they yearn to stay in Andy’s house forever, even if that means living in a box in the attic.

To be honest, that’s distressing for me not just because I’m now a Manhattanite whose children were born without an attic, or even closets. It’s distressing because it strikes me as an oddly pro-hoarding message. OK, I know, it’s a total buzzkill to link Toy Story 3 to a serious psychological disorder. But have you seen A&E’s Hoarders or TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive? Hoarding is no joke, and it’s not that rare—without bumming you and myself out with the details, let’s just say there’s a fairly vibrant strain of this disorder alive among my relatives. My own clutter issues, according to the International OCD Foundation’s Clutter Image Rating, are “subclinical,” thankfully, but I’ve got loved ones who can’t even use half their house because it’s stacked to the ceiling with junk, each mildewed item imbued with some meaning or the other.

I’ve tried to help in the past, to little avail. I worry that it’s somehow genetic and that my children will end up with the same psychoses. So I’ve tried hard to understand the mindset, the suffocating overdose of sentiment, that can attach a person so tightly to so much stuff. But it wasn’t until Toy Story 3 that I ever saw the world so clearly from a hoarder’s perspective. These plastic gew-gaws are, in the Toy Story world, a completely acceptable vessel for the intense emotions of childhood. There’s no mediation of that idea at all—nobody suggests to Andy that he should have thrown those toys out or donated them long ago, that it’s somewhat pathological to invest so much emotion in objects new or old.

It won’t spoil the plot to say that donating the toys to a daycare center—which in the real world would be a great idea—becomes a nightmare for the sensitive toys involved, and that the real payoff only comes when Andy looks for a truly unique and special home for Woody, Buzz, the Slinky-dog, the piggy bank and other playthings. There are many inflections of OCD and hoarding, but among the delusions that bedevils one of my relatives the most is that same idea: that she’s only keeping these books, manuals, VHS cassettes, broken tape recorders, etc. until she can find the right person to give them to, someone to whom they would finally be more than trash.

That’s a fine idea if you’re dealing with one item, or five. But in the case of most hoarders, it’s thousands. And maybe it’s just my warped perspective on this, but I have a hard time believing that Andy—a 17-year-old now—would keep an entire chest full of little-kid toys in an otherwise clean, uncluttered room. It just seems that if he kept the mementos of his preschool and elementary school years within such easy reach, he would have also kept mementos from middle school and high school as well: yearbooks, board games, erector sets, track shoes, trophies, love letters, prom boutonnieres. In short, his room would have to be a mess of tilting piles of memory-infused trinkets.

And if that’s what it was, from the outset the audience would have been shouting what I felt like shouting: Andy, for the love of God, just throw away the toys already and start living.


  1. James says:

    July 1st, 2010at 9:10 am(#)

    We took our 3 kids to see this last night. Great entertainmen. I love your pro-hoarder interpretation. The same thoughts crossed my mind.

  2. Nathan says:

    July 1st, 2010at 10:51 am(#)

    Thanks James. It’s a great flick, no doubt, and I feel a little strange calling it out, but in terms of what kids/adults actually deal with these days, it does seem an odd message…

  3. Vickie says:

    July 1st, 2010at 5:14 pm(#)

    Maybe the message is not “Don’t throw toys out”, but that “If you loved something, pass it on wisely”. The movie showed how much living Andy did with these toys, how rich his play life was. I think that’s why he kept them above all his other toys, why they meant so much to him.

  4. JasonS says:

    July 1st, 2010at 7:44 pm(#)

    In the scenes at the dump I kind of wondered why it was only the toys that were sentient. Maybe nothing wants to be thrown away.

    Also, my 5 year old won’t wear the 3D glasses. We’re still 2D all the way.

  5. Amy says:

    July 4th, 2010at 2:06 pm(#)

    I was worried when we saw that right before we needed to do a toy purge. We’re in a 1 BR apt, just had baby #2, and the 5 yo just had a birthday. Serious purging necessary. I’m happy to say that my daughter was great with the purge, and we even marked a big box for day care. Good luck, toys!

  6. Carolyn says:

    January 11th, 2011at 12:43 pm(#)

    On Dec 14th, my 5 yr old watched toy story 3. On Dec. 22nd
    we did a big toy overhaul preparing for christmas. I told my son
    that we were sending the broken toys back to Santa where they would
    be fixed and given to boys and girls that don’t have toys. A couple
    of weeks went by where my son was then afraid to throw anything in
    the trash or give things away (tape, wires, clothes, toys, shoes,
    etc.) He even saved a toaster sandwich from breakfast one day in
    his book bag for two days. When I found it he was very protective
    and did not want to throw it out. The doctor says that he is too
    young to be a “hoarder” and that is is more associated with some
    fear of separation or death….except no one has died in our family
    and my son aced going to preschool and kindergarten with flyer
    colors…loved school, had no trouble saying good bye, and got
    along well with others until this awful Christmas. This morning he
    reminded me about the imagery in the toy story 3 movie where there
    is “fire in the trash truck” and the toys were going to die. If you
    have seen the movie, that is a very powerful scene…very
    titanic-like. Much to my suprise, a google search for “children
    hoarding toys story” brought of several articles and reviews about
    the message that this sends to children and bringing about fears
    that they are too young to understand or develop acceptable coping
    mechanisms for.

  7. Josh says:

    October 2nd, 2011at 6:31 pm(#)

    I find these comments a little ironic.

    You know what’s funny? Months before Toy Story 3 (so Feb. 2010), I was a hoarder out-loud. Not an excessive one that buries the house but say you throw my old school notebook away without permission, I’d flip out like it was criminal.

    Other than having accepted the reality of how I can’t hold on to everything forever yet won’t let go, I was basically Andy in TS3. Even more funny was that I said to myself that “until I watch Toy Story 3 (we all knew the synopsis by then from the trailers), I’ll decide what to do with my toys”.

    Of course, having seen and enjoyed the movie AND shred to tears for the better and worse of the events – SPOILERS WARNING – , it turns out giving Toys away is what I had to do. Most importantly, I learned that you have to let go, a life lesson in accepting change and move on.

    If there’s anything I learned from Toy Story 3, that’s what it was. And now I’m clearing stuff out more than ever. Toy Story 3 had made a very positive impact in my life to my hoarder mentality.

    Well anyway, this whole article isn’t wrong. I can see in a lot of areas where it encourages hoarding ever more so. Just sharing my light in the dark view of this.


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