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.