Note: I’m writing this assuming you’ve seen the movie. Do NOT proceed if you haven’t seen it. Come back and read this when you’ve seen it.
To me at least, the very premise of the plot is subversive. There is NO WAY there could be a happy ending. A moving on, yes. But a happy ending? Never. The very essence of the film is the relationship between Andy and the lead toy, Woody. And the whole point in the closing episode of this trilogy is the “breaking up” of this team. Woody is the tragic hero in this saga, and it is he who is to lose the most in the equation. The sacrifice he makes at the end of the movie cements his role as the hero in the story. And to add to that, Buzz ended up with Jesse. On paper, it should be Woody and Jesse since they are cowboy-cowgirl, but like I said, the real alpha couple here is Andy and Woody. They basically followed the Star Wars model, with the initial pairing of Luke and Leia, only for them to be revealed as brother and sister, thereby opening the door for a Han Solo-Leia pairing, leaving Luke to forge on, all on his own, to fly high alone with no one to lean on, just like the recent pop culture epic heroes upon whom it is incumbent that they face the climax of their respective sagas completely and utterly ALONE — just like Frodo, like Harry Potter, and the latest to join their ranks, Woody.
From the very opening scene, the tenor of the film is somber, sobering, and simmering in a sneaky sadness. True, you’ll be laughing most of the movie, but it never lets you forget that this is the end of the trilogy, and it won’t be a neatly tied happy package at the end of it all. Andy is off to college, and the toys have been forgotten by the one person who gives their existence purpose. Tell me, how can that turn out right? It’s not like a romantic break-up, where the two parties can have a change of heart and run back to each other arms. Let’s face it, with old toys, unless you’re a vintage collector, most are thrown away, regardless of how rich the memories were. Just like many things in our lives, there are some things that once you’ve said goodbye to, there is no turning back. Sentiment aside, life is a series of letting go — letting go of toys, of your childhood, of innocence, of past loves, of family and friends when they or you marry, of your youth, of your health, of loved ones to death, and eventually the final letting go, of your own final breath. It only sounds morbid, but if you really think about it, that’s life. We weren’t really meant to stay in the same place, to be the same way, unchanged indefinitely. We’re supposed to go on a journey, an evolution where entering the new phase means letting go of the old one.
That’s the beauty of the way this third installment tackled the issue of letting go. It didn’t go the mawkish way by having Andy keeping Woody and the gang. It didn’t soften the blow by making the toys’ new life much better than what they had with Andy. It just showed that when one part of your life is over, you simply need to move on, no matter how hard, no matter how much you want to hang on to what you’ve gotten used to. The seasons give way to each other whether they want to or not. There’s no arguing with the cycles of life. So when the toys were left with Bonnie, it wasn’t necessarily better than when they were with Andy, but it wasn’t necessarily worse either. The same way you can’t really argue which is better, your life as a child, as a teen, as a single adult, as a married person, or as a septuagenarian? One is neither superior nor inferior to another. It’s merely the natural progression.
I guess that’s why the movie hit a raw nerve. You hit a certain age and you suddenly feel the rush of things in your life that are slipping quickly through your fingers; people and things and situations you’ve grown to love and depend on. And once you start to lose the stuff in your life you love dearly, you start to resent having to let go of them. The movie is a painful reminder, I guess, that the only control we have in this life, is not over situations, but over how well or how badly we roll with them.