On Saturday, we took Sasha to one of those birthday parties that really reminds me where I stand in the hierarchy of New York City. Held in the family’s home apartment tower in the Financial District, it involved a swimming pool long enough to do laps, a basketball court, multiple platters of bánh mì, “cake lollipops,” an entire room devoted to holding presents, and, by my rough count, 400 children and their 1,200 parents. Oh, and there was a screening room, too, where late in the day someone put on Toy Story 3.
No objections there! I’m generally very happy with Pixar movies, and don’t even need to have a kid around as an excuse to watch one. And while I was sort of disappointed that Sasha wasn’t getting her first exposure to the franchise through the original Toy Story, I figured she’d be able to follow along pretty well.
In case you haven’t seen the movie, the toys’ story is a smart one: As their owner prepares to go off to college—hence leaving behind his childhood—the toys wind up donated to an apparently edenic day-care center called Sunnyside. Small spoiler: It ain’t so edenic after all. Instead, it’s ruled over by Lotso, a pink teddy bear whose strawberry scent belies his cruel ways. In his Sunnyside, unworthy toys are consigned to the toddler room, where they’re chewed, beaten, and otherwise molested, while the chosen ones go to the preschool room—a haven of sophisticated play. Helping him enforce the rules are a creepy one-eyed baby doll and, of course, Ken (of Ken & Barbie).
About halfway through the movie, the cowboy hero, Woody, learns of Lotso’s backstory (from Chuckles the Sad Clown): Once upon a time, he (and One-Eyed Baby) had been the cherished plaything of a little girl, who accidentally left him behind during a family outing. By the time Lotso, Baby, and Chuckles made it back home, they discovered the girl had a brand-new pink Lotso in her arms. They’d been replaced. Lotso was crushed—and angry—and dragged his comrades away into the night. Oh, hey, look, here’s the video:
And it was at the moment that Sasha erupted in tears. “I want to go home,” she cried to us, her wails filling the screening room. Apparently, she hadn’t just been wowed by the Pixar spectacle—she’d really followed what was going on, and had made the connection between creepy Baby and her own baby doll (named Baby Pizza). To see Baby in such misery was just too much. We comforted Sasha and hustled Sasha outside, where she cried fat tears in the taxi home.
This was, to us, tragic, hilarious, and incredible, all at once. Was Sasha, at just 3 and a half, exhibiting empathy? I mean, that’s probably not unusual, but it’s still amazing to see. She is, thank goodness, a human being.
She is also, I like to think, proof that letting your kid watch TV isn’t all bad. That is, from her devoted, increasingly sophisticated viewing of various cartoons, she’s learned the visual language of cinema well enough that these stories make sense to her on a surprisingly deep level. Again, it’s not just the thrill of the action that captivates her, but the way the images convey a narrative that actually means something.
Maybe I’m projecting, maybe I’m rationalizing, or maybe I’m flat-out wrong. Still, it makes me think that, you know, this kid is really getting somewhere (although she does, sadly, retain a misguided love of Scooby Doo). Some kids grow up in zombie-proof towers with their own jacuzzis, but mine will at least be able to explain the difference between a jump cut and a match cut. And now I’m asking myself: What’s next for her Netflix queue? Has Dora remade Rashomon yet? Could Dan Zanes redo the soundtrack to Koyanisqaatsi? And can we get the My Little Pony cast to star in a candy-colored version of Pulp Fiction?