Toy Story 2 and other upcoming movies
Mon, 6 Dec 1999 11:44:42 -0800

I saw Toy Story 2 yesterday, along with a number of previews that had interesting elements.

SPOILERS are present.

First, the previews: many people will by now have seen that Robin Williams is starring in a movie version of Isaac Asimov's award-winning short story Bicentennial Man, about a robot who, over a span of two centuries, manages to become human. Much of the plot is an encouraging tale of self-improvement and success in reaching a goal. A common element is the difficulty Andrew the robot encounters in trying to deal with the world as an independent being while constrained by the Three Laws (the preview briefly showed an attractive scene where Andrew causes a holographic representation of the Three Laws to appear, spinning, in the air). In the end, though, the story is spoiled by deathist sentiments, as Andrew eventually adopts the defining human attribute of mortality.

There was also a long and beautiful preview of a Disney movie, Dinosaur, coming out in May. The preview was like a nature movie set in dinosaur days, with Jurassic Park type dinosaurs but without the horror elements. Very pretty and impressive.

I was somewhat disappointed with the plot elements of TS2, which had similar themes to Bicentennial Man. Toys die, it seems, when they are discarded and no longer played with by their owners. Woody, the cowboy doll, is given a chance at immortality, to be exhibited in a museum and admired by children forever. But in the end he decides to go back to be with his owner, Andy, for the few brief years he has before Andy grows up.

The message the movie seems to be sending is that it's not important how long your life is, what matters is the quality of your life. And in a world where death comes to everyone this may be an appropriate philosophy. At least it softens the blow, and makes mortality less depressing. You can focus on the here and now without brooding on the sword hanging over your head.

Ultimately this seems to be the purpose of so many of these stories which reject immortality. It would just be too depressing for today's audiences to see someone joyfully accepting and benefitting from immortality. (Cocoon was a rather daring exception to this.) These tales are meant to be therapeutic, to help people deal with the crippling reality of death. Particularly with children's stories like these, the youngsters may be just beginning to grapple unconsciously with the discovery of their own mortality.