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Toy Story 3: ‘Contains Mild Thematic Elements Not Appropriate for Older Viewers’

toy-story-3-trailerDear Motion Picture Association of America:

I’m freshly back from the theater after seeing Toy Story 3, which prompts me to ask: A G-rating? Seriously? I haven’t been this disturbed since the Turkish prison scenes in Midnight Express (which was rated R, by the way).

The first two Toy Story movies centered on the happy relationship between a young boy named Andy and his toys. In Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3, Andy is packing for college, and the story leaves the toys to fend for themselves in a world where there’s no longer anyone to care for them.

It’s not that the movie was mis-rated. Devoid of sex or gore, it is a kid’s movie. Technically.

But what it stirs up in movie-goers is anything but juvenile: Essentially abandoned by a grown-up Andy, it’s up to the desperate, panicked toys to find not just a new home, but a way to recapture their raison d’etre : The simple joy and richness of being loved best by a child.

The unspoken premise is this: Nothing lasts forever, and in the end you’re either the deserted or the one deserting. (Also: because this is a kid’s movie, Pixar tosses us a bone: Don’t fret too much; you’ll eventually find someone else who is almost as good as the original. But it’ll be hell – hell! — getting there.)

So, Motion Picture Association, you could have warned me. Toy Story 3 is tragically under-rated — in the sense of sketchily explained, resulting in a whole audience of popcorn-munching Americans who will suddenly be caught off guard for that scene when Woody, Buzz, Ham, and the rest of the toys — trapped on a garbage incinerator’s conveyor belt — hold hands in heartbreaking resignation as they brave a certain fiery death, and in that moment you forget that they are not just toys but cartoon toys, and you bawl like a baby at the desperate humanity laid bare on their digital faces.

And that was just one scene of several: The scene where Woody leaves for college….? The mix of wisdom and acceptance that flickers across the faces of the toys as they watch him drive off down the road, which signals a silent acknowledgment about the nothing-lasts-forever bit? It will destroy you. Unless you are made of stone.

I’ve admittedly been in a melancholy mood lately, what with the fledgling kid about to take flight and the situation with the one-eyed dog. So maybe it’s just me. But I don’t think so. As the credits rolled, only a few people (possibly robots) jumped up and made their way immediately to the exit, instead of taking what the rest of us needed, and had earned: a sensible few minutes to pat our faces dry and collect ourselves before shuffling out.

Then as we left the theater, my daughter — who tends to sprout hives when she’s really upset — could manage to only scratch broodingly and shake her head no at me when I asked her what she thought. My son said simply, “Why did we have to see that?” in a ponderous tone. He sunk into silence for the rest of the car ride home, no doubt remembering his previously carefree existence. And by “previously” I mean like 2 hours before, when the frailty of us all wasn’t quite so palpable.

When my daughter was younger, she’d self-police her entertainment options. A grade school friend would call and invite her to a matinee, and she’d say, “Sorry. But that movie has mild thematic elements. How about we see…?” And then she’d name another film more in line with her middle-aged sensibilities. She picked that up from reading the cautionary footnotes your association uses to elucidate and rate a film’s content suitability for certain audiences. (Like: “May be too intense for younger audiences” or “Contains mild thematic elements not appropriate for younger viewers.”)

So I’m thinking that some films could carry similar cautionary footnotes to a prescribed rating, because frankly, I could have used an elucidating footnote prior to the movie today. On Toy Story 3, for example, you might consider: “Caution: Contains mild thematic elements not appropriate for older viewers.” Or: “May be too intense: The sensitive and overwrought strongly cautioned.” Or perhaps: “Attention parents of graduating seniors: You might want to skip this one and go straight to dinner instead.”

Pixar is long overdue for this kind of action, in fact. The last animated film that similarly unhinged me was also a Pixar flick; specifically, the “Married Life” montage from Up. Haven’t seen it? Let me summarize: Two adorable kids marry with dreams of a life together, then eventually things don’t work out exactly the way they envisioned, and one of them ends up sad and alone.

Which leads to the inevitable question: Is that a cartoon – or is that life?

Thanks for your consideration.

Total Annarchy

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45 Responses to Toy Story 3: ‘Contains Mild Thematic Elements Not Appropriate for Older Viewers’

  1. OK, but now we're going to need a similar rating for blog posts…especially when they involve certain dogs and their ocular challenges! (the first of your Annarchy posts that I could not bring myself to tweet to others) :>}

  2. Lara Dickson says:

    This is most profound 'review' I've seen on Toy Story – and now I will not only go see it, but probably with some skepticism, and Kleenex. Thanks for sharing, Ann.

  3. annhandley says:

    Lara: I'm so glad you said you said that this review made you want to see it — I wouldn't have missed it for the world, really. But yeah.. bring Kleenex. A box, perhaps.

  4. annhandley says:

    Awww. Sorry. Of course you'd feel that way! : )

  5. KarenSwim says:

    This was not on my list until today many thanks for the warning and profound review. 🙂

  6. Charles Brown says:

    I haven't seen TS3 yet, but thanks for the heads up. I remember when I saw the montage in UP I was really moved by it and thought it was a little deep for the kids it was intended for.

    Maybe Pixar is really targeting big kids like me. I like being moved without being played (a point on which Up succeeded admirably). I like sophistication, but also like a good, fast-moving story.

    The fact is that maybe the folks at Pixar are a little too good in their trade of storytelling. They plumb emotional depths that might not be for kids.

    Just wondering.

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  8. Kleenex are a must! I did not expect the movie to hit me the way it did.

  9. Bethann says:

    ok, should I see it, or not?

  10. annhandley says:

    Totally. But you are warned.

  11. Jen DelMonaco says:

    Thank you, THANK YOU for this post! When S had LM's sleepover and the hubs was out of town, I decided to take my 7-yr old to this the much-thumbs up'ed movie. She was HYSTERICAL with fright at the incinerator scene, openly bawling when that horrible pink teddy didn't do the right thing and stop the conveyor belt of doom, and the list goes on. I kept saying out loud that I couldn't BELIEVE this was G-rated Pixar, but no one could hear me, because we were all ripped off paying an extra $13 for IMAX which did not enhance the visuals but made the audio ridiculously loud. We also drove home shocked to the core and couldn't come up with anything good to say about it. Here's what I got: those who should see it (teens about to leave the nest) won't, for the most part, those who will see it (children 3 and up) should not by any means! Up at least had subtlety and laugh out loud moments: TS3 had this for take aways: as you said in your blog, in the end you're alone, so just deal with it, those who you would expect to do the right thing won't; broken baby dolls and cymbal-playing monkeys are horrifying, Ken is super-gay.

  12. Great review! I have to agree that it was much more emotional and hard-hitting than I expected. My sister and I bawled like babies, but her 6- and 8-year-old kids were fine. Our car ride home was filled with laughter and squeals, as we collectively recounted the edge-of-your-seat tension of the conveyor belt scene, my correct predictions about the true intentions of that not-so strawberry-sweet bear, and the hilarity of Buzz's Spanish mode.

    I can understand the message you (and many others, it seems) have taken from the film, but I think there are other ways of looking at it, too, such as:
    – Life is full of transitions, such as going to college, and it's up to you how you handle those transitions
    – Sometimes you have to let things go, in order to move on with your life (remember Andy finding Woody in the donation box, and not wanting to let him go?)
    – Just because you don't need or want something any more doesn't mean it's trash
    – You can only be there for someone as long as they need you to
    – and finally, strawberries aren't always sweet.

  13. annhandley says:

    Corina: I like the way you think, and I believe you are absolutely right. That said, that perspective doesn't come easily to me… but I could use to adopt your view a little. So.. thanks. 🙂

    “Just because you don't need or want something any more doesn't mean it's trash.” Love it.

  14. katybeth says:

    I am so so so glad that I did not see this movie. I am almost in tears hearing your story of seeing it. Like your daughter, even when young I was very careful what I allowed myself to watch because it lived with me forever after…heck, I still remember in the movie Patton where they shot the old man's donkey's for being in the way on the bridge. Was that really necessary!! My 14 year old loves and can handle violence but can't watch “Series of Unfortunate Events” or like movies. He explained it to me as we left Unfortunate 30 minutes after it started?”Mom whats funny about kids loosing there house and parents.” Uh, yhea. Toy story. Might be great for some…but not for me.

  15. Oh crap, sounds like life rather than a cartoon. Aren't cartoons where we go for escape – albeit temporarily and often deservedly – from said life?

    Maybe Pixar should leave the heavy lifting to a different studio brand. I associate animation with levity and I like my association. Maybe I'll skip this one. I have enough moments of heartbreaking resignation on the event horizon as it is, and frankly, they can stay right there – out on the horizon – for now.

    I agree, the “Up” marriage montage was a downer but at least the misery was over at the start. (Plus I watched that movie on some long haul international flight so I was half jet-lagged out of my mind . . .) What every happened to ending on a high note?

  16. pippaken says:


    You have succinctly explained what might be at the root of my recently ex-first grader's bout of insomnia (loss of school and buddies for 3 months, notwithstanding).

    She saw the movie as a guest at a birthday party on opening day 2 weeks ago and was unable to fall asleep that night. She was terrified by the garbage incinerator scene described by one of your commenters (haven't seen the movie yet) and deeply troubled by the losses.

    Since then, she has not been able to fall asleep in her usual easy manner, and I can only assume that, being both sensitive and emotionally expressive, she is experiencing what must feel like some kind of existential crisis.

    And like you, I am in a reflective mood, noting that my chicklet is needing her mommy bird less and less. While I celebrate her development and fierce independence, I can't help my acute awareness of the passage of time. When I realize that my ability to resolve her dilemmas and soothe her stress is now largely out of my hands (beyond normal mommying), I too wonder how I would handle my existential crisis it sounds like this movie generates.

    The song “Slipping Through My Fingers” from Mamma Mia had me sobbing tonight as we gathered around for family night movies.

    I'm not ready to be reminded just how fragile and fleeting it all is!

  17. Lwimberly says:

    Amen. They should hand out tissues with the 3-D glasses. My 4-year-old was urging us to leave as soon as the credits started rolling. I was trying my best to get him interested in Buzz's dancing so I could collect myself. And don't get me started on Up!

  18. Tobias S. says:

    That seals it… I'm going to skip this one and keep my streak (haven't seen any of the Toy Story movies) alive and well. But I have to ask – are you really arguing for a new layer of movie information… when all you have to do is read any of the countless reviews on a dozen platforms out there in the great social media milieu? Hey, all you had to do was ping your Twitter legions… a simple “what didya think of Toy Story 3?” tweet, and, boom, done. You would've had all the “fair warning” you could've asked for…

  19. Catpurry says:

    Thanks for the warning. I was looking forward to an update on Buzz and Woody, but don't think my heart could take this sad flick.

  20. Donna Jolly says:

    “and you bawl like a baby at the desperate humanity laid bare on their digital faces. . .” Ann, you are a damn good writer. My better-half has been wanting to see this and after reading your review, I'm motivated. Thank you.

  21. What a great write-up! I so enjoy reading and sharing with you. Thanks.

  22. Egad. We were looking forward to seeing this one & hadn't yet. Granted, I started tearing up when I saw the commercials the first time, so perhaps I have a bit of a masochistic bent.

    That bad, eh? Our son also just graduated & was a toddler when the original hit the screens. I have been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster about all of this [and also sobbed inconsolably during UP]

    Sounds like I should just wait for the DVD, stock up on Kleenex & drown my tears in a pint of cookies & cream in the privacy of our living room.

    Thanks for the heads up 🙂

  23. You're welcome! I hope you like it more on the DVD round. 🙂

  24. Dave Fluegge says:

    Haven't seen Toy Story 3, but heard the same thing from others. I have seen UP, and after the first 15 minutes I was feeling depressed. The shock of being in the mindset of typical Pixar humor made it even more of a shock to my system, and almost made me want to turn it off. Love Pixar movies, but now I approach them with caution.

  25. Tabitha Dunn says:

    My7 year old daughter loved the movie but the incinertor theme had her gripping my arm in panic and asking for reassurance that all would be well. Considering my experience with Happy Feet (also a movie that deserved a warning label), I hesitated before reassuring her that all would be well. And let me tell you, she has quite a mad on for that purple teddy bear. “He doesn't deserve their friendship and the second chance they gave him, Mommy.” So true, my girl, so true…

  26. Adam Zand says:

    Totally agree. My guy (born in 1999 when TS 2 came out) struck the cool pose on leaving the theater, but I was approaching tears on the 3-D glasses.

  27. annhandley says:

    My oldest was five when the original came out and the perfect target audience for, it turns out, TS1 and TS3! To say that it didn't resonate for both of us… well, it did.

  28. annhandley says:

    Did you see the “authentic” 1983-style commercial Pixar made to promo TS3 featuring our pal Lotso?

  29. annhandley says:

    I love them too… but a little warning, you know?! ; )

  30. annhandley says:

    LOL.. definitely!

  31. annhandley says:

    True. But then what would I have to write about? : )

  32. annhandley says:

    Funny Katybeth & Karen — I'm the same way. I generally avoid movies that are more depressing than my actual life. I did love TS3, but could have used a warning….

  33. Dave Fluegge says:

    Absolutely, I think Pixar needs its own sub-rating system to prepare us. Rated WU – Funny like Wall-E yet heart wrenching like UP.

  34. Does no one remember Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimms? Have our kids become so fragile they must have stories that are happiness and light and nothing else? And are we now such milquetoast parents that we can't help them when a movie might frighten them a little, and maybe they might learn something about life from it? Doesn't anyone remember Sid the toy-dismembering neighbor and the evil toy collector from the first two Toy Story movies? Isn't poignancy good, even for our children—something that makes a film last?

  35. Burbanked says:

    This is a terrific piece, but it dismays me that it seems to be persuading folks not to see this amazing movie.

    Pixar movies are evolving. Never content to be the standard-bearer for animated technology and quality, they've advanced the nature, structure, possibilities – and the marketing – of animated movies through the creation of amazing characters, multi-layered stories and emotional rollercoasters made for adults and kids. Of any studio making animated features – which has always been a movie art form; just not one traditionally rewarded for its OVERALL (i.e., not just pretty pictures) artistry – the filmmakers of Pixar represent the very best chance of breaking free from the “it's just an animated film” mentality to instead represent “this is purely extraordinary filmmaking.” It's no small feat.

    With all respect, instead of “Pixar should inform us what we're in for” I'd suggest “when we see a Pixar movie, we should understand that more will be offered to us than we might expect”. That is not a good thing; it's a GREAT thing.

    Someone in the comments suggests “Maybe Pixar should leave the heavy lifting to a different studio brand.” That would be a shame. There's just about no one better in Hollywood doing this kind of heavy lifting.

    • UnpopularTruth says:

      Pixar is free to “evolve” their movies all they want, but if TS3 is any indication, they’re going to have to stop marketing them to children. This was not a children’s movie, even though it’s being used to sell toys. My wife and I agreed TS3 was the most disturbing “kids” movies we have ever screened. Because we love them, our children will never see it. If this had been a live action film with real people, it would have been considered an action/horror movie and received a PG-13 rating at a minimum. The disturbing scenes throughout were unnecessary
      and offensive. Watching the toy bear bully a toy baby, including hitting in the chest with his stick in anger? Watching a toy monkey with bulging eyes scream and hiss at the other toys and sit on Woody while violently beating him in the head with his cymbals? Watching the horror on the toys’ faces as they are about to be burned in an incinerator? Putting that garbage in a “children’s” movie was sick. Whoever decided to market that psychological trama to kids should be prosecuted, not praised.

  36. annhandley says:

    I couldn't agree more, Alan. In part, this was a tongue-in-cheek piece… calling for new MPAA ratings is a silly idea, and the title alone “not suitable for older…” kinda makes fun of the whole concept.

    I love TS 3, and I love Pixar movies. If anything, I was celebrating Pixar's ability to move me — a supposed grownup! — with its “cartoons.” I definitely hope folks see TS3 and any and all Pixar productions!

  37. Burbanked says:

    I got – and quite enjoyed – your intent! But a number of commenters responded with a desire NOT to see it, which caused me to have one of those Very Cinematic “NOOOOOOO…!”-type reactions.

  38. Katiecassis says:

    Hilarious. I couldn't agree more… my husband and i sat in the theater with our 4 year old and 6 year old dumbfounded at the G rating. My four year old sat on my lap whispering for most of the movie, “Mommy, I'm scared. I don't like this movie”. G rating? I don't recall that reaction during Horton Hears a Who or Curious George (both G rated). Anyway, thanks again for your insights. Very funny.

  39. KC says:

    Poigncnacy is good, when done in a way that captures the heart and mind of a child. You think this movie did that? This movie was rated G (suitable for all ages). Do you know many five year olds reading Hans Christian Andersen? And yes, I guess I am that milquestoast parent you speak of if that means I am a parent who chooses to protect the fragile and fleeting innocence of a 5 year old. He will read Hans soon enough. He will know dark poignancy soon enough. Today, I'd like to preserve, if just for a moment, his belief that life isn't scary.

  40. sensiblemom says:

    Just saw this movie with my 7-year old. Wish I hadn't. He cried throughout the incinerator scene, as I consoled him. Much too intense! What was Pixar thinking? Afterwards when asked about the movie, he had a list of things he didn't like about the movie. I really don't think was a movie aimed for a G audience. They certainly caught us off guard.

  41. sensiblemom says:

    This may be true, but you're forgetting about the feelings that movies are meant to evoke. I would have really enjoyed this movie on my own, as there were some really great laughs, etc, but through the eyes of a child, and the connections they have with their toys, it would be pretty disturbing. I'll be telling all my mom friends not to take their children to this movie.

  42. Jim Sutton says:

    Hi Ann,

    I am a returning subscriber here. Thanks for writing this post. Our 2 year-old grandchildren have seen at least Toy Story 1, which was shown to them by a day-care provider. I appreciate your “warning” about Toy Story 3 as they mention Buzz and Woody frequently. There is the point that fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel are equally disturbing in thematic content. That brings up the point of reading a story versus seeing it in a movie.


  43. Banchsh says:

    I agree this movie was a bit strong for young kids but i think pixae qas aiming at rhe kids who first saw the movie in 1995 who are now adults. I dont think the movie was intended for our 3 and 4 years olds

  44. RS says:

    Just watched it for the first time. About 20 minutes in to the movie, I said this isn’t a G rating. My 2 1/2 year old said a couple of times that she’s scared. If a 3.5 and up watched that, they’d be balling. Terrible rating. At the least it’s an elevated PG. I would’ve walked out if at the theater.

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