the end of things: toy story 3 and knuffle bunny free.

this is my somewhat wordy review of the endings to two great trilogies: the knuffle bunny series by mo willems and the toy story series by pixar*. there are spoilers ahead.

is it the colors? the clearly written stories and relatable characters? i would like mo willems fine, but i like his work so much more than fine because my kids, especially g, adore his books. we had fun reading some elephant and piggy books from the library this year. g constantly wants to read knuffle bunny, the only book by willems that we own. after reading an interview with willems, i was especially interested to see how the series would come to an end. i read it in the bookstore, trying not to cry in public. it was so sweet and beautiful, and it reminded me of the end of another beloved series that drew to a close this year. apparently i wasn't the only one to see the comparison. more on that in a moment.

toy story 3 was a funny one for us because we saw it on dvd, not in the theater, after hearing it lauded by everyone we knew. the first time was a bit disappointing, though i did tear up a bit. then i rented it again this week, about two months after the first viewing, and have seen it more clearly in subsequent (read: three more) screenings.

toy story 3 had many challenges. first, it had to draw us in with a fresh approach. as a sequel it had the opportunity to build on characters we have come to love over the years, but had to resist overplaying certain quirks so that those characters don't feel overplayed or tired. and finally, because it's the last in the series, it had to give the audience some type of closure without negating the meaning from the previous two films. initially i was skeptical--it felt like a prison break movie, not wholly unlike chicken run. i also couldn't decide how i felt at the end. i cried, inevitably, but wondered at andy's ability to let everyone--including woody--go.
am i so materialistic?

this is what i thought was so interesting about both knuffle bunny free and toy story 3. in the end, both trixie and andy examine their attachment to their cherished toys, then let them go. both stories have other themes too, but the theme to hold dear to memories then pass on objects is very strong. i know i'm sentimental, perhaps overly so, but i was interested that both tales end with such unselfish gestures. these actions probably stood out to me more because at the moment i'm struggling with letting go of my children's baby clothes--and my oldest is just over five years old! what kind of mess will i be in thirteen years? the more i think about it, though, the more i see that this is a wonderful message to teach our kids--to hold onto memories, then pass on beloved things. i have always believed in donating rather than trashing, but i still hold on to my fair share of material possessions. i hope to teach my kids to let material things go easier than i do.

i could go on about the materialism themes in toy story 3--how lotso is a perfect foil for woody ("we're made to be thrown away!" lotso yells at the heirloom 1950s toy woody). and how horrific the scenes at the dump are. how could we not think twice about throwing things away after that? the film shows on many levels the ways that we should--and shouldn't do things. We see the toys--their themes of sticking together no matter what, never leaving each other behind, risking yourself to help a friend, sacrificing your own needs for the happiness of others--are among the good examples we see. on the flip-side, we see how a lack of respect (lotso's perspective that toys are disposible) and what following a selfish leader can lead to. in the people, we see that giving is good, even when it's hard, and that caring for things--showing respect--is a form of love. i'm definitely thinking about the latter as i look at the toys strewn about my house and think, are we taking care enough? it's an important value i want to teach my kids.

i also love how toy story 3 (along with the first two films) shows a special respect for childhood, especially the magic of play. i remember holding my toys and feeling that they could come to life. that's something i want my children to have, too. sometimes it's hard to give kids quiet space and free time to play, especially as the world grows more competitive and electronic. it was gratifying to see the way Bonnie took care of her toys, and how she played--all out, full on imagining, no television or video games played. it was also gratifying to see that the kind, imaginative andy grew up to be kind and imaginative. being in the phase i am now, it's always encouraging to see other kids go through the growing up process and remain relatively their same sweet selves.

both willems and pixar do a fine job of addressing children and adults. i cried at both because i'm understanding more and more what other parents say about how fast childhood goes, and i think pixar and willems illustrate this all too well. willems writes the loveliest message to his real-life trixie at the end of knuffle bunny free--more than her unselfish action at the end, it's these pages that made me cry. in toy story 3 i cried during the home-movie montage that shows andy growing up, and the scene near the end when andy's mom sees andy's room packed up and is suddenly struck that her son is grown up. parenthood is crazy that way--one moment you're humming along, lost in the daily routine of things, and the next moment you notice something that triggers the realization that your children are growing up.

as a writer and a parent i love seeing how closely these works parallel the lives of the creators. these stories are based in truth, and sincerely reflect their true emotional experiences with great characters and quality production. in the fifteen years since the original toy story came out, i'm sure pixar has seen its fair share of high school graduations.

finally, i wonder what it's like for younger adults/teens to watch toy story 3. i keep thinking of my cousins, for instance. when toy story first came out, they were three years old. six months ago they were the ones graduating high school, then preparing for college and post-high school life in the summer. i think about my aunts, and wonder how it felt to watch this film through their eyes--these kids grew up playing with toy story toys and games and watching the films excitedly in the theaters. now, the series winds up just as childhood does for their kids. it's quite poetic, really. knuffle bunny free and toy story 3 offer riveting stories for children along with entertainment and guidance for us grownups who are on the other side of the process. they are both poignant tales with themes of unselfishness and caring for others. i'm inspired as a parent and a writer.

*i'm using pixar as a collective for simplicity's sake since the film was a collaborative piece--including more than one writer.


  1. I love, love, love this! I am experiencing much of the same thing and you've expressed it so perfectly. Absolutely lovely.