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‘Toy Story,’ Meet Rudolph’s Island of Misfit Toys

A New York Times contributor, David Hajdu, penned an op-ed piece about the symbolic significance of “Toy Story 3,” mostly because when a movie makes more than $100 million in its opening weekend, the Times has to find some way to intellectualize its popularity.

Still, I was surprised that the analysis didn’t mention the earlier piece of pop culture that the “Toy Story” franchise — and this third edition in particular — has always brought to mind for me: “Rudolph the
Rudolph Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

In that holiday perennial, Rudolph discovers a place called the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s told there that a toy is only truly happy when it’s loved by a child.

“Toy Story” has always played around with this theme, though it has never fully embraced it. In the new movie, for example (small SPOILER ALERT here), the toys are abused by daycare toddlers who are not “age appropriate” for them.

Apparently, a toy being played with (and therefore, presumably, loved) by a kid is only truly happy if the kid uses the toy as prescribed. Who knew?

This isn’t to say I had problems with the movie — I actually enjoyed it greatly, though not as much as “Toy Story 2,” one of the best sequels ever. It’s only that there’s always been something inherently sad about the “Toy Story” premise, which is that toys live for a certain kid, who will inevitably outgrow them. And while the Times piece likened that to a “Cats in the Cradle” scenario with aging parents, the fact that the toys are ageless somewhat skews the analogy.

Reviews for “Toy Story 3” have been not surprisingly rhapsodic (including a score of 91 on Metacritic.com), continuing Pixar’s astonishing run of both critical acclaim and commercial success. I’d argue that the company has had only one disappointment by the former measure, “Cars,” which has nevertheless delivered a huge merchandising windfall.

Still, I hope Pixar sticks to its guns and grants the “Toy Story” gang what few franchises that earn such popularity ever receive in Hollywood: Other than standing appearances at the Disney parks, a long, happy and well-deserved retirement that extends to infinity — and beyond.

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