I’m going to make an assumption: you’ve already seen Toy Story. You’re one of the millions that have shared an hour and a half with Sheriff Woody, Buzz, and friends – either in its initial release or its equally successful sequels.
Let’s call it what it is. Toy Story has become a “classic.” It represents not only the birthplace of Pixar’s imaginative journeys, but the turning point of the entire CGI animation world (the first feature length film to be fully computer generated). As captivating as Pixar’s animation is, this is not the basis of Toy Story‘s success (or its placement in our Top 50 Experiences in Wonder). Rather, Toy Story (and the entire Pixar franchise for that matter) has two things figured out that are intricate with any encounter of wonder: story and absurdity.
While we could offer a myriad of opinions on the matter, the simplicity of Toy Story’s success lies with (good) story. And of course, with a namesake like Toy Story, you better have it figured out. According to Pixar co-founder, John Lasseter, there are three vital components to their success – “world, character, and story” – the latter in which the animated genre breathes or dies upon.
Toy Story is a classic “buddy” story telling the tales of friendship, love, identity, and rescue, all while deeply immersed in the absurd. Arguably the real genius of the Pixar team is that they begin in absurdity. Follow me on this one: We have a closet full of toys that come to life whenever the grown-ups are at bay. They talk. They hold public meetings. They play video games. They drive cars. They go on dates.
But could (or does) such a thing “really” happen?
Whether you believe in such a possibility doesn’t matter as it’s your humanity that prevents you from experiencing the reality in the first place! You can’t see it; except on film that is. Again, here is the genius. Toy Story simply provides a window into a world that we would never encounter otherwise.
The irony lies in the realization that it is within the absurdity – the space in which we have detached ourselves – that we encounter our own story.
We become sympathetic to Woody – not because we share the qualities of a talking toy, but because we resonate with his quest for significance. We appreciate Buzz’s unwavering commitment to find his counterpart – not because it’s some entertaining plot, but because we all desire friendships worthy of pursuit and rescue. We tear up during Randy Newman’s heartfelt “When Somebody Loves Me” (Toy Story 2) – not because of Sarah McLachlan’s mesmerizing voice (okay, maybe partially), but because we cannot palette the harsh realities of abandonment. In any case, the story of a seemingly outside reality becomes very dear to our own.
This is wonder at work. We are nudged outside of ourselves for just long enough to reflect, reconsider, and shift. This time, it just so happens to come from a collection of talking toys.
It’s ridiculous! But it’s the ridiculous that works.