The Nostalgic Gaze of Toy Story 3

Curator's Note

In the opening set piece of Toy Story 3, the characters we have become so familiar with are not toys. Their existence has broken beyond the confines of their owner, Andy’s room, and they are now living entities battling each other in their own space (the Old West). But there is still something familiar about what is on screen. Attack dogs with built in force fields, dinosaurs that eat force field dogs, and death by monkeys are among concepts developed by Andy in the first two episodes of this saga.

As this narrative nears its climax, we are transported to young Andy’s room, revealing that what we had just watched was a dramatization of his creative play. As he continues, his mom enters the room disturbing his carefully constructed tableau with a VHS camcorder in hand. Her interference is accentuated by its presentation, which is depicted form the perspective of the camcorder’s viewfinder. Andy is initially put off by her interruption, but quickly heeds her request to pretend she is not there.

The conclusion of this sequences kicks off a montage of recordings that feature family activities both ritualistic and mundane. The clips are presented from the vantage point of Andy’s mom’s camcorder, which is indicated by the insertion of static lines and on-screen information. Their inclusion generates a “frame-within-a-frame,” (Moran 168) which distances its production from the slick, photorealistic, narrative representations produced by Pixar’s animation team. This juxtaposition creates a bricolage effect that emphasizes what is being viewed is an artifact plucked from the diegesis of the film and inserted into its narrative.

Because its delivery occurs at the cusp of a rite of passage (Andy leaving for college), the generated effect is that we are watching this analog medley of youthful exuberance with the same nostalgic gaze as Andy’s mom. The format of its exhibition is a reminder of the time the original film was released, and signifies that those who came of age at its debut must now pass on the torch of these characters to the next generation as Andy does with Bonnie at the film’s conclusion.

Source: Moran, James. There’s No Place Like Home Video. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

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