The genius of Pixar films is that they take simple non-human things like toys, fish, cars, bugs, robots, and use them to reveal deep truths about human beings. Telling truth "slant"1 like this accomplishes a major feat; it bypasses the intellect (and any defense mechanism that might pop up) allowing the heart to see and receive the truth. All ages are touched by Pixar films because they are films that reach the heart. In its most recent movie the highly acclaimed Toy Story 3 the truth that is being examined by the heart is "What happens when one get old".
The story opens with Andy going off to college. His room is being cleaned out to make way for his younger sister. So what happens now to all of Andy's toys? That is the question all the toys are asking and because the toys represent humans, the question really is: What happens when people get old and feel they are no longer of use to their owner?
Owner is a key word. Woody assures all the toys they are Andy's toys. They are owned and loved so they will be taken care of. They will all go to the attic (up- heavenward) and will be safe, warm and tucked in. This is just temporary because one day Andy will pass them on to his children. The toys will not go into the garbage. They will not go into plastic bags and be taken to the local dump and put in the "fires of Gehenna".2 They belong to Andy.
There is another option besides up to the attic or down to the dump. The toys see Andy's sister placing some of her toys in a box to be donated to "Sunnyside". When they accidentally get mistaken for garbage they escape to the Sunnyside box in the car parked in the garage. They want a new owner, believing the lie that Andy has thrown them away. Woody tries to argue with them but they will not listen to him. So off to Sunnyside they go.
Sunnyside is for old cast off toys. It looks good on the outside, matter of fact it looks like Paradise it even has the Dream House Barbie has always wanted. In reality it is an institution and there is no doubt that Pixar has in mind all "humane" institutions: day care for the young, nursing homes for the elderly, and prisons for the incorrigible (Charles Dickens would have added poor houses and asylums). Why this focus on institutions? Because institutions by their very nature tend to be dehumanizing places, they are designed for the masses not the individual.
Two "worlds" are being contrasted in this film; the world of the "Loved and Owned" versus the world of the "Unloved and Cast off".
Loved/Owned Unloved/Cast off
Andy's toys; marked by his name. Cast off toys; with no owner and
They belong to him. no name.
Loved and accepted Unloved and rejected
Looks used outside but inside loved Looks good outside but unloved inside
Family Disconnected Individuals
Lovingly played with Used and abused
Imagination and creativity Chaos
Woody, sacrificial friend Lotso, angry bully
There is only one way out of places like Sunnyside, going into "the fires of Gehenna" at the local dump. This is where the climax of Toy Story 3 takes place. Lotso the bullying bear betrays Woody and saves himself or so he thinks (he ends up plastered to the front of a garbage truck). Woody and all the other toys go into the fire "together" as a family. They hold on to one another and because of that they are saved by the giant arm, (operated by the three very least toys) that reaches down from above and rescues them.
The movie ends not with their "death" and destruction but with a new life in a garden with a new child, Bonnie. The toys are not donated to an institution but are entrusted to a friend who will love them as much as Andy does.
There is a profound question being asked in the movie. What happens to old toys is really what happens to old humans. And the answer is very clear; it all depends on who your owner is. It depends on whether you have a name stamped on you and to whom you belong.
You've got a friend in me...
But none of them will ever love you the way I do...3
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends.." John 15: 13-14a