How Pixar surprisingly missed the mark with empathy in Toy Story 3.


You can find this article in its entirety HERE.  


“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison 


It must have taken hours to get the cast all lined up for this photo.

I remember stepping out into the hot desert heat from the Red Rock Resort Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on the afternoon of June 23, 2010 after having watched Toy Story 3 – but it wasn’t necessarily the heat that struck me.  No, it was something else – something about the movie that left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth that I couldn’t quite put my  finger on.  While I enjoyed it, as many others in attendance did, I couldn’t help but feel something was, well…off.  Upon watching it a second time, I had a better understanding why I felt the way I did and putting it into context – a huge summer family film – left me scratching my head as to what the folks at Pixar were actually thinking with some of their story choices.

My concern stemmed from the film’s misuse of empathy, choosing to take a tone centered on vengeance or “comeuppance” that is perhaps a reflection of our society in general – but hardly the qualities and attributes one might expect from a spectacle like the Toy Story Trilogy that is catered toward children more so than adults.  As discussed in the previous article, that a film such as The Woodsman was able to take an unsympathetic character in Walter – a recently released child molester who’s just served twelve years in prison – and allow for him a measure of forgiveness and redemption begs the question: why couldn’t Pixar do the same for a strawberry-scented teddy bear?

We’ve found a new home!  You can read the rest of this article as well as others HERE

About Jim Barker

A multi-award winning sculptor who uses a pen to shape words on a page that leave impressions in the mind.
This entry was posted in Empathy, Perspective, Story Structure, Theme. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to How Pixar surprisingly missed the mark with empathy in Toy Story 3.

  1. thepissedoffpundit says:

    Bravo, man. You hit the nail on the head and through the wall. This week has been outstanding, hats off. This’ll come in handy later on. What are the coming attractions?


  2. Exactly. This is why I hated this movie. I don’t know how you’re still able to praise it. Horrid. Brought me down. Left me empty.
    Well put, sir.


    • I liken movies to people: they’re rarely perfect and try to appreciate them for what they are, warts and all, as there’s usually some redeeming qualities within. 🙂 But yes, it’s hard to overlook in this case (and perhaps harder not to dwell on, which prompted me to write about it.)


  3. Stella says:

    Wow, that just explained why the movie felt so wrong!


  4. Joey Jerimiah says:

    “Getting the needed boost from Woody and Buzz, the filmmakers let Lotso reach the top – inches from earning redemption and becoming a hero – only to have him turn vile again. And for what? Prolonging the toys’ collective sense of doom, only to have a deus ex machina moment with a claw?”

    You make it seem as if that deus ex machina moment wasn’t immensely satisfying in the context of a movie made to entertain. In that sense, having the movie go down the path of redemption for Lotso would’ve eliminated the harrowing moments in the incinerator where the toys accept their fate and look to each other for final comfort, drawing upon the history of their bonds built up over the trilogy, which for me was an incredibly powerful scene. It may also have changed the eventual ending with Andy, another powerfully moving scene.

    I’m sympathetic to Lotso’s fate (to a point), even to where I’d maybe accept slight changes to his story, but as a movie, I don’t think redeeming Lotso to hero status would’ve allowed Toy Story 3 those two powerfully moving ending scenes that involved the main elements of the series: the toys’ relationships to Andy and the toys’ relationships to each other. If it’s one or the other, I’ll take the latter. I think the empathy for Lotso was adequately displayed when Woody went to save him; if having Lotso go vile was the cost to allow the rest of the movie to ratchet up it’s intensity, I’m fine with that choice.


    • Jim Barker says:

      Lotso doesn’t need to be successful in order to have redemption; he could very well have made an effort, failed, and left the characters in the very same predicament.

      The question is: why would the author/filmmakers give the character a compelling backstory that makes an audience empathize with him, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them?

      Audiences feel the empathy characters have toward one another, and yes, Woody makes an attempt, but ultimately all that happens on the screen has to be understood – at least on a subconscious level – by the audience. Here, again, they’re asked to empathize and invest themselves emotionally into a character setting up an expectation of redemption, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, they get regression which left some people asking what the point was.

      A better handling of the story would have been for Woody to have a self-revelation upon his attempting to help Lotso understand that he needs to let go. It would have fit perfectly into the theme of the story and forced Woody to realize where his own personal issues reside.

      Such a point would not have changed the ending of the story at all – it would have made it more organic having Woody realizing first-hand the negative impacts of holding on to something that’s no longer there.

      Lastly, you’ll be hard pressed to find many story analysts and editors who condone the use of deus ex machinas. Even Spielberg has taken a certain amount of grief over their use in some of his films as they ultimately void any meaning within a story’s structure.

      That wasn’t necessarily the case with Toy Story 3 because the moment didn’t occur at the story’s climax – it was just the climax of that particular sequence. The real climax is when Woody is forced to make his decision with Andy.


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