Poetry and Symmetry of Storytelling in Toy Story 3

I’ve watched recently Toy Story 3, but this time with audio commentary by director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla Anderson. This blog post was inspired by their commentary and draws heavily from it.

With movies, it’s all about setting it up and paying it off consistently, to create this poetry and symmetry of storytelling.

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to someone who you’ve known for a long time, some you’ve loved or just deeply cared about.

There is a scene, when Woody is leaving the toys. It gets very emotional, because they have been together for so many years. They get into argument. Both sides have to say things and they are not very nice. It’s a messy break up, because when Buzz extends his hand to Woody, he refuses to shake it.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)

Later in the movie, there is a scene, where the toys are taken to the dump. It’s the biggest fear of a toy. It’s not like getting thrown away or being outgrown by a kid, because that’s not the end of a toy. But heading into inferno of incinerator, that’s the ultimate end.

The toys are trying to climb up the trash, but they very quickly realize, that this is not an option. They are falling into the incinerator and slowly sliding toward their doom. There is no way out, no option, this place is inescapable.

So there is this wonderful and extremely emotional moment, when all toys come together as a family. Buzz reaches out to Woody and this time, he accepts his hand without hesitation. This moment intentionally mirrors the earlier scene, where Woody refused to shake Buzz’s hand. They all hold hands, they bond as a family, close their eyes and face together their doom.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)

It’s extremely emotional, because now we have this “family reunion” to contrast the messy break up in the earlier scene. This is what Darla Anderson meant by “setting it up and paying it off”.

The incinerator scene is extremely emotional even if you only look at the still frames above. It’s not just about creating the symmetry of storytelling (setting it up and paying it off). It works so well, because there are additional layers of meaning.

The toys realized in this scene, that the most important thing is that they have each other… is there anything more important?


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