Monday, January 24, 2011

Alternate Models of Families in Pixar movies: The Toy Story Trilogy

Chances are you will be surprised at what I am going to write now: I wanted to write an entry about how Andy's dad is absent from the family in the Toy Story movies. Are you surprised? Or have you always consciously noticed that Andy's father is never mentioned in the films and that he is completely absent from the family?

It did take me a while to notice that there was no father present and from what I have seen in online discussions it is a thing that most people don't notice at first until someone else points it out to them. Granted, the movies are, as the title already suggest, first and foremost about toys! The toys are the most important characters in the movie and it is their struggle that makes up most of the plot of the films. Also, from a technical point of view the animation team concentrated on the toys, the human characters mostly just making up a framework for the story. Many people explain the lack of Andy's father simply with: "They didn't animate that much."

But that's not really the Pixar we know. If one listens to the audio commentary of Toy Story 3 they mention how they at first didn't plan to even have a model for young Andy for this movie and that they at first had planned to leave it a bit botchy and chalk it up to the inferior camcorder quality so it would fit right in with the video that shows us young Andy playing with his toys. However, as they developed a model for young Andy, they just couldn't make it halfhearted, if they do something, they do it perfectly. Thus I do think that technical constraints don't mean a whole lot at Pixar and the decision to leave Andy's father out of the movie was at least in part a conscious one.

If you google further it appears that, despite the absence of Andy's father being not a plot point in the movies at all, many people are upset by this. They claim that it is just not "right" that any movie propagates such a "new normal" which "isn't normal at all", scoffing at how Andy is "too well-adjusted to not have a father around" and that "America needs examples of how a real family (a man and a woman [obviously they felt the need to specify that]) are formed".

I can say that I am really happy we have movies like Toy Story, which portray alternate models of families in a good or at least neutral light, without making the whole movie about it. Pixar tends to do these little nods to really progressive themes without making a spectacle out of it and that's what I find great about their movies. It's just one of the reasons why people of all ages can find something in the movies that touches their life or their views in some small way. I find this to be much more delicate than to target more mature audiences exclusively with adult humour.

Anyway, I think the very non-chalant portrayal of a single-mother family (for whichever reasons it may have ended up like this) in Toy Story is a great thing and it shows that alternate models for families have come a long way on their path to acceptance. It is great to see an alternate model of a family portrayed as if it's the most normal thing in the world, as I mentioned, many people don't even notice anything is missing from the picture to begin with. Besides, since Finding Nemo is a movie about a fish growing up without a mother (and I don't hear anybody complaining about that), shouldn't it be alright for Pixar to make a movie that only just slightly and softly touches on the subject of a boy growing up without his father and turning out alright after all?

Then of course the Toy Story movies aren't even devoid of positive father figures! Of course you can count Woody as one of the nurturing and loving father figures in the movie. His first priority has always been to be there for Andy whenever he needs him and Andy stresses that Woody has been his best friend for as long as he can remember. Buzz Lightyear, when he first comes into the picture does appear a bit like the shiny new toy that maybe some stepfather might have gifted Andy and indeed, the squabble of Woody and Buzz in the first film could be seen as an allegory for the actual father and the step-father fighting over the affection of their son. Lastly, the odd group of toys can also be seen as a family of course. Especially in the end, where Woody realises that the other toys have over the years become equally important to him and he can not face being without them, as they too have become his family.

I think Pixar promotes healthy families, just not necessarily families that always adhere to the most rigid standards that conservative people might think up. There is love and nurturance to be found in the oddest assortments of people and being of the same sex, being of different kin or any of these things have never stopped people from being a family to each other. I don't find that there is anything to criticise in this healthy message of the movies.

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