Opinion: Life lessons from the Toy Story franchise – Ashley digs deeper

The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – digging deeper into the Toy Story franchise. Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

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I was 8 years old when I went to see the first Toy Story movie in the theater with my friend and her family.

I don’t have a lot of clear memories about the experience, but I do remember enjoying the movie and, of course, feeling excited about spending time with my friend. Plus, it was super nifty to see a movie that was entirely computer animated, which was still a novelty back then.

I literally grew up with the Toy Story movies over the years, and it’s a bit bittersweet to think about how, 24 years later, I went to the theater this summer to watch what is presumably the end of the Toy Story franchise, with “Toy Story 4.”

On a surface level, the Toy Story movies work as simply fun, family films. You’ve got great characters like Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang, and there have been plenty of laughs along the way. But the real reason these films have endured — even when the older computer animation now looks a little dated — is their universal themes about the wonder of childhood, the beauty of friendship, and the importance of learning to let go.

Here are the three biggest life lessons I’ve learned from Toy Story over the years:

How to be a friend

I’m so used to the iconic friendship between Woody and Buzz Lightyear that’s it’s weird to think that when they first met, they were NOT best buds.

In the beginning, Woody resented Buzz’s presence in the toy room, and he was jealous of how much their owner, Andy, wanted to play with Buzz. Woody feared being replaced.

Jealousy is a theme that pretty much anyone can relate to — regardless of what age you are. Whether it’s a kid who is envious of their best friend’s new toy, or an adult who resents the coworker who seemingly has it all, jealousy is a toxic force that poisons all it touches.

Woody has to learn to “share” Andy and to accept that as a toy, Buzz also deserves to be played with and loved. Once Woody lets go of his jealousy, he gains a new friend.

How to grow up

Toy Story 3 has several tear-jerking scenes, including the oft-referenced clip of the toys almost getting destroyed by a trash incinerator. (Seriously, that scene is an emotional gut-punch!)

But the moment that gets to me the most is actually at the very end, where grown-up Andy takes his beloved childhood toys and gives them to a new child, Bonnie. Even though it’s hard for him to say goodbye, he knows it will be better to place them in a home where they’ll be played with and loved.

Getting older is never an easy thing; the transition from childhood to adulthood brings more freedom, but also more responsibilities. Sometimes it’s tempting to want to cling to the past, and to avoid those responsibilities.

However, life only moves in one direction — forward. There’s joy and sadness that comes from every stage in life, and we shouldn’t shrink back from the future. Although there’s sorrow in seeing Andy say goodbye to childhood, he also has many new adventures in store as he heads off to college and makes new friends.

It’s good to find a balance between treasuring past happy memories while also being willing to embrace the future.

How to accept change

I’ll admit it — I was skeptical about “Toy Story 4.” And yet not only was I thoroughly entertained (my husband and I about passed out in the theater after laughing so hard during the “plush rush” scene; Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Ducky and Bunny pretty much steal this movie) — the story also deeply moved me.

In “Toy Story 4,” Woody finally decides to say goodbye to the gang and head off on a new adventure with Bo Peep. It’s a surprisingly bittersweet twist, especially after the ending to “Toy Story 3” already made all of us teary-eyed.

Change isn’t always comfortable. Whether it’s a new job, a new house, a new relationship, etc., even a happy change can bring fear and uncertainty. Also, to get something new you may have to give up something old that proves to be hard to part with.

Like growing up, change is an inevitable part of life, and it’s something Woody resists for a while. Yet he finally finds his place when he is willing to face his fears and try something new.

Change brings both an ending and a beginning. Don’t be afraid to close one chapter and start a new one.