Toy Story 3 is proving to be an emotional rollercoaster for men, writes Tom Teodorczuk.
The scene is surreal even by the standards of New York, where characters are on every street corner. Amid the stampede of children leaving a Manhattan cinema as the credits roll on Toy Story 3, grown men stagger out of the auditorium wiping tears from behind their 3-D glasses. A few push baseball caps over their heads to mask having cried at the climax of what is a feature-length children’s animation.
Toy Story 3 has cued an outpouring of grief from adults – notably men – not seen at a children’s movie since Bambi’s mother had that ill-fated encounter with hunters in 1942.
The phenomenon of men crying at a family film has kicked off a national debate in online chatrooms and around water coolers. Just what is it about the Disney/Pixar film’s third instalment involving Buzz Lightyear, Woody the cowboy and their toy friends that is leading men to lose control of their emotions? And is it ever OK for men to cry in public?
Andrew Palermo, 37, an Italian-American construction manager, thinks so. When he emerges with his son Frankie, 8, from a cinema in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, both have tears streaming down their faces.
”You expect a Pixar film to treat kids like adults, but that blew me away. It was a deeply moving study about family, friendship, loss and change,” he says. Another young man fighting back the tears says: ”The scene where Lotso [the villainous teddy bear] says toys are just pieces of plastic, meant to be thrown away … that really did it for me.”
To see why men are getting choked up at Toy Story 3, it’s necessary to reveal some plot details. Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want the ending ruined.
With 17-year-old Andy on the cusp of leaving home and going to college, his toys are packed off to the sinister Sunnyside Daycare centre. The toys escape and return just as Andy departs for college. This time, Andy hands his toys to Bonnie, a young neighbour – but not before bidding them an emotional farewell.
The first sign that Toy Story 3 was going to be a rollercoaster for men who never quite got over being separated from their cherished childhood toys came with the critical notices. American reviewers, increasingly merciless about the films they see, confessed in print to blubbing.
Owen Gleiberman, the critic at Entertainment Weekly, wrote: ”When it comes to my reaction to Toy Story 3, I’m not just talking about shedding a tear or two – I’m talking about that soppy, awkward thing where you make sounds.” The Herald’s Paul Byrnes described the film as ”remarkably moving, with a surprising depth of emotion”.
For many men, the empathetic reaction felt by watching a boy let go of prized possessions is compounded by the nostalgia that 21st-century toys are far more state-of-the-art – and less imaginative – than Hamm the piggy bank, Mr Potato Head and Bullseye the horse. The New York Times declared that Toy Story 3 reminds viewers of ”the romance and pathos of the consumer economy, the sorrows and pleasures that dwell at the heart of our materialist way of life”.
Dr Peter Kanaris, a clinical psychologist and public education campaign co-ordinator for the New York State Psychological Association, says men have been taken aback by the poignancy of Pixar’s latest film.
”So many people go to the cinema knowing what to expect, whether it’s a ‘chick flick’ or a ‘guy film’. But Toy Story 3 is really touching men in ways they hadn’t expected.
”A real man is supposed to be strong and not have these kinds of feelings. But touched by the memories of toys, leaving home and a loss of innocence, men are crying freely at it.”
The notion that animated films can impart emotional truths more effectively than their live-action equivalents is supported by Timothy Dalton, the former James Bond actor, who lends his voice to the hedgehog thespian Mr Pricklepants in Toy Story 3.
”What’s great about animation is that everything has such a strong emotional base, in a way that you never could have with people in a live-action film,” he says.
For now, the film’s box office success is such that Pixar and Disney are happy to have men blubbing all the way to their bank.