The Magic of Toy Story 3


In the Toy Story Movie Trilogy, Cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) undergoes the rich complex emotional journey of an exceptionally well-drawn Power of Love character. In Toy Story 3, Woody completes that journey with his beloved Andy.  Toy Story 3 is as powerful, heartfelt, thrilling and funny as any film deserving of a “Best Picture” nomination.  It has my personal vote to take home the 2011 Oscar in that category.

Power of Love characters see their own value only as it is reflected in the eyes of their love object.  Woody’s relationship with Andy defines who Woody is and why he feels important.  His “special place” in Andy’s heart and on Andy’s pillow is put at risk in the first Toy Story film.  A new toy, Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), has captured Andy’s attention and interest.  When Buzz appears on Andy’s bed Woody approaches the interloper to set things straight.

Buzz-Lightyear-Toy-Story-3Woody says:  “Hey hey! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Did I frighten you? Didn’t mean to. Sorry. Howdy. My name… is Woody… and this… is Andy’s room. That’s all I wanted to say. And also, there has been a bit of a mix-up. This is my spot, see… the bed here.”

When Buzz won’t cooperate Woody’s reaction is mounting fury and intense jealousy.  Woody says: “Listen, Lightsnack, you stay away from Andy. He’s mine, and no one is taking him away from me.”

Over the course of Toy Story, Woody learns to share Andy’s love.  Woody and Buzz become friends.  It is a hard won step in Woody’s emotional journey.  Power of Love characters fear becoming useless, unnecessary, unwanted or unappreciated.

These characters define their own self-worth by how much others need or are dependent on them. Jealousy and resentment are the immediate reactions when a Power of Love character feels displaced or rejected. Woody must put these selfish feelings aside and learn that love is expansive.  If you are open and generous you will find that there is enough to go around.

Power of Love ETBScreenwritingPower of Love characters are usually the caretakers in an ensemble and Woody relishes filling that role with the other toys.  In Toy Story 2 Woody prepares to go away with Andy to Cowboy Camp.  Woody is concerned that everyone is well cared for during his absence.  He says: “Here’s your list of things to do while I’m gone: batteries need to be changed. Toys at the bottom of the chest need to be rotated. Oh, and make sure everyone attends Mr. Spell’s seminar on what to do if you or part of you is swallowed. Okay? Okay, good, okay.”

But Woody’s arm gets ripped and Andy leaves him behind.  Andy goes to Cowboy Camp without his friend.  Through a series of unfortunate events, Woody ends up in a yard sale and is stolen by a vintage toy collector.  Buzz, leading the other toys, comes after Woody to return him to Andy and the toy chest.

Initially, Woody is tempted to stay with his new friends.  What he is offered is immortality– to be enshrined in a museum, admired and adored forever by endless generations of children.  Buzz tries to talk some sense into Woody.

Woody---Buzz-Lightyear-toy-story-478714_1024_768-1Buzz Lightyear:  “Woody, stop this nonsense and let’s go.”

Woody:  “Nah, Buzz.”  (Woody sighs)  I can’t go. I can’t abandon these guys. They need me to get into this museum. Without me, they’ll go back into storage. Maybe forever.”

Buzz Lightyear:  “Woody, you’re not a collector’s item, you’re a child’s plaything. You are a toy!”

Woody:  “For how much longer? One more rip, and Andy’s done with me. And what do I do then, Buzz? Huh? You tell me.”

Buzz Lightyear:  “Somewhere in that pad of stuffing is a toy who taught me that life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid. And I traveled all this way to rescue that toy because I believed him.”

Stinky Pete the Prospector tries to warn Woody that Andy is growing up and will eventually abandon him and break his heart. Woody tells Pete: “Your’e right, Prospector. I can’t stop Andy from growing up… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

240toystory2Woody realizes love is worth the pain.  He explains his attachment to Andy to his new friend Jessie the Cowgirl.

Woody: “Look Jessie, I know you hate me for leaving, but I have to go back. I’m still Andy’s toy. Well, if you knew him, you’d understand. See, Andy’s… ”

Jessie: “Let me guess. Andy’s a real special kid, and to him, you’re his buddy, his best friend, and when Andy plays with you it’s like… even though you’re not moving, you feel like you’re alive, because that’s how he sees you.”

Woody: “How did you know that?”

Jessie: “Because Emily was just the same. She was my whole world.”

In Toy Story 2 Woody learns to love Andy even though he knows Andy will eventually outgrow him.  Woody has moved from loving Andy because it makes Woody feel needed and important, to loving Andy unconditionally.  Even if love may eventually break Woody’s heart, it’s the only thing that matters.  The end is already in sight in Toy Story 2.

Toy-Story-3-Andy-toy-story-3-9703190-1024-576In Toy Story 3 Woody learns that loving is letting go.  Woody has the opportunity to go to college with Andy.  But he will sit on shelf, gathering dust.  Andy has moved past needing Woody and the cowboy knows it.  Instead, Woody chooses to join his friends and be donated to Bonnie, a much younger girl.

When Andy delivers the box, he is surprised to see Woody inside.  Andy hesitates and then lets go too.  He plays with Woody and the gang one last time and tells Bonnie:  “Now Woody, he’s been my pal for as long as I can remember. He’s brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he’ll never give up on you… ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what.”

Both Woody and Andy are ready to move on because that’s what you have to do in life.  The people you love eventually all will leave you– because of circumstances, age or death.  They go off to college.  They move away.  They come to the end of their lifespan.  We can choose to be embittered, resentful and closed off by our loss or we can chose to love expansively and let go like Woody.

This movie was particularly poignant to me because my family has learned all too clearly that loving is letting go.  Eleven years ago, on a Good Friday, my father died of lung cancer.  He was a long-time smoker and an “Ad Man” in the era of Mad Men. I can still see him light up a Pall Mall and sip his Tanqueray Martini.  He always had a crisp white handkerchief in his pocket, a shine on his shoes and the faint scent of Brylcreem and British Sterling.  If I had one word to describe him it would be “dapper.”  He was a showman and a professional hypnotist.  Everyone in town knew him and he was genuinely interested in and curious about everyone he met.

At the end of his life, my dad was in hospice care at home.  We were all fortunate to be with him and in the house when he died.  In his last days, it was clear he was ready– more than ready– to go.  As much as we wanted to keep him with us for just a little longer, it was time to say goodbye.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about love is that it is not diminished by distance.  It is not diminished by time.  It is not diminished by death.  Those we we have loved live forever in our hearts.  It hurts to love and let go.  But it hurts even more to close ourselves off from love.

I have learned we must allow our hearts to be cracked open by love and even be broken.  Those we love will disappoint us.  They will often fail us.  They will leave us. But that is part of being human. It’s a fragile, frail and imperfect existence.  And in the end, love is the only thing that makes life matter– even when it means saying goodbye.  There is no movie I can think of that expresses that sentiment better or with more elegance, grace and humor than Toy Story 3.

I’d love to hear your experience of the movie and how you have experienced and written about loss and love in your own life and work.  Please comment below or post on our new ETB FaceBook Page.  And if you are feeling generous and expansive today please “like” us.


  1. Reply Moira Romano 13th February 2011

    Take this analysis beyond the movies and into your office, the board room, the court room, and even to figure who you are dating. Laurie’s Emotional Toolbox has powerful applications.

  2. Reply Carmel Callan 28th February 2011

    Hi Laurie,

    Greetings from Dublin, Ireland. I had the great pleasure of attending your workshop a few years back. The lessons I learned over those couple of days have informed my writing ever since. Apart form my television work, I recently was a winner of DarkLight 2010 with a short film called RAY. Your advice was invaluable as the film was so character based.

    Anyway, I so agree with you regarding Toy Story 3, what a glorious ending to an amazing trilogy!. As ever it is a pleasure to read your analysis [ I am so with you on Black Swan versus The Social Network], it enhances my work but also is a personal joy.

    is mise le meas


    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 12th March 2011

      Thanks so much Carmel. I hope to back in Dublin one of these days!