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Saturday, August 6, 2011

From the Blog Archives: A Commentary on "Big Baby", June 25, 2010

I saw Toy Story 3 tonight.

I, along with many of my friends, have been taking our children to see Toy Story movies since they first came out in 1995. My oldest son was immediately attached to Woody and Buzz, and we were "sell out" parents almost before we knew it, lugging "Bugs Biteyear" literally everywhere we went for years. Woody was easier, and fit better into carry-bags, but Buzz and Woody were a team, and had to go in tandem. We loved Buzz and Woody with our son, and eventually added a Bugs Biteyear sheet set and pillowcases, and a Bugs Biteyear sleeping bag. Pixar got us early, and Buzz and Woody became very literally the first big "give in" to mass media marketing for us. We never regretted it.

In true Toy Story form, Buzz lost pieces and parts of his famous spaceman suit, and Woody eventually wore out his voicebox and string, and became a much sought-after "groom" for our son's little sisters' doll weddings. Buzz and Woody still inhabit some crevice in our house, at the moment unknown to me, and probably always will be a part of our lives; as toys that the grandchildren will eventually share. But with the release of Toy Story 3, I find I am moved by an entirely new character. Big Baby.

Big Baby is a solitary character, as Toy Story 3 reveals. Once much loved, Big Baby is accidentally lost to her "mommy". Big Baby is left believing herself to be defenseless and subject to the authority figure, and more beloved lost toy, Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Lotso for short). Big Baby follows Lotso everywhere, and eventually, when Lotso's love for his child turns to hatred at his abandonment, Big Baby is turned into a hate-filled enforcer for Lotso's power and hate-filled schemes. Big Baby is cast into the role of a dumb, unfeeling goon, left with only doing the bidding of Lotso and his cronies.

Big Baby isn't a mutant figure as in the earlier Toy Story movies, where whole toys are disassembled by Sid, the child-next-door, and grotesquely reassembled. Big Baby is instead a once-beautiful, brilliantly blue-eyed baby doll, a whopping 18 inches tall, that once wore a beautiful dress and bonnet and a necklace proclaim her "parentage". By the time we catch back up with her, now presumably years after her loss, her once beloved vinyl and fabric body is naked, one eye is broken, and she has been permanently disfigured by the markers and paint of over-zealous child playmates. Her sweet baby mouth, now expressionless.

As you look at her promo picture, you see just how desolate her reality has become. At first she looks just like dolls we and our daughters have played with and lost the clothes for. Hundreds of naked babies just like her inhabit toyboxes and church nurseries everywhere. But pictured on a stark black background, black markered toenails, dirty, Big Baby is soon to become in our imaginations, too big, too unattractive, too dirty and too scary to be lovely or loveable anymore.

My immediate response to Big Baby was strong. She had been told she was ugly. She had been told she was unworthy and unwanted. She had been told she was not smart enough, and not important enough, and she was made to believe she didn't count. She was just a baby doll, a too-tall baby doll, and not a more valued "boy toy" or a Barbie. So, she turned to the only form of affection left for her...she found acceptance as a hater and enforcer with Lotso's "Boys". Big Baby became the biggest, creepiest "monster" of the movie.

There were other monsters in Toy Story 3, monsters that were made to be monsters and fuel childhood imaginations. But not Big Baby. She was meant as a toy for cuddling, loving, caring for, and nurturing. Without the good things she was created for, she became a tool for hatred and evil.

As I watched the movie, I was compelled immediately to want to go and save Big Baby. I wanted to rescue her and take her home and clean her up and make her a beautiful dress and name her and keep her forever. But most of all, I wanted to reprogram her dreadful self-concept. This baby doll was "real" for the moments of the screen filling my senses, and she was so damaged. It was for her, and not for the growing-up subjects of the movie, for which I cried.

Perhaps it's a case of "you can grow a girl up, but you can't take the girl out of the woman" or some sort of normal nurturing instinct in this mother-of-three that made me fill with tears. But what really fills me with sorrow as I reflect on Toy Story 3, is how accurately it portrays the reality of so many of us, whether we're at the point of admitting it or not. Big Baby is a victim of the highest magnitude, and in Big Baby, I see all my worst fears for my children represented:

First, Big Baby is a victim of accident. She has been accidentally lost to her mommy, who loved her, valued her, played with her, and needed her. What parent does not fear most, the possibility of being unable to protect their child from injury or death? The most traumatic nightmares for mothers during pregnancy, when nightmares are common, often includes a child just out of her reach, unable to be protected and saved. That is Big Baby; a child whose mother could not save her, leaving her emotionally scarred and damaged.

Second, Big Baby is left to fend for herself, no longer a named being. She is forced into the role of a nobody, a role which completely redefines and transforms her. I have traveled this way myself, and as I face the future with my children who increasingly walk their own way, I fear they too will not have the friends and community around them at some point that helps them maintain their sense of positive value and self-worth. I lost my own personhood early in life, and have spent the adult years of my life trying to re-establish what I had stripped from me. It's been a long, terrible journey, and one that I would give my life to keep anyone else from ever experiencing. (That is why I am in the try to help save people's lives from the dreadful hell of self-loss.) That is why tears filled my eyes for Big Baby.

Three, Big Baby is turned into a hater, by the only ones she believes she can depend on, and she subsequently is unable to be recognized for the truly loveable, sweet, innocent,capable, full-of-potential being that she is. Big Baby is what the Lotso Boys decided she is, a monster enforcer, without soul. A "thing", not a "being".

I think this matter stands for itself. How often are we redefined and our real personhood denied us by the forces around us? How often are our vulnerabilities exploited, and are we forced to take on false realities in order to survive? I have, with every fiber of my being, attempted to "immunize" my children from the forces of the world that would deny them their genuine God-graced personhood with the elaborate, unique and amazing personalities that God has given them. I actually grieved to see this same violence inflicted on Big Baby.

The main plots of the story...growing up, letting go, deciding on the future and how to reconcile it with the past, are all hard enough, and important. But they feel a little like emotional window-dressing to me by comparison to the truly important issues that I see in the character of Big Baby. Was I satisfied with the ending for Big Baby (which I will not reveal here if you haven't seen the movie yet)? Yes and no. She was still naked, still without a name, and still was not a "precious" toy as all of Andy's toys were. But, on a positive note, she was obviously aware of having had a different past than the one that she had been reprogrammed to believed by Lotso, she was cared for, and her needs as an individual recognized.

Have I read too much into this movie? Perhaps. Will I see the movie differently the next time I watch it having stated these thoughts electronically? Probably not. Maybe I'm just a case of a woman who once found true joy in the toys of her childhood, and over-sees in Big Baby a being that just wants to be loved. Maybe I'm over-identifying with metaphors about inanimate objects!!! I guess I leave that for you to decide. Whatever you think, I pray for you, your children, and all of our world's children, that there comes a time where not a person every has to be Big Baby

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