Last month, my younger son William and I saw Toy Story 3 in New York City in 3D. I loved it! Yes, you read that right. Miss Sarah, the anti-media-for-young-children Waldorf teacher, absolutely loved Toy Story 3.
Those of you who’ve seen it know that the ending is a tearjerker, but I nearly melted in a puddle of my own tears, thoroughly embarrassing my 15-year-old son. The movie was especially heart-rending for me because my older son Harper is the same age as Andy, the boy to whom the toys belong.
Harper was about four years old when the original Toy Story was released. At the time, we lived in Hollywood, my husband was working in the entertainment industry, and we were invited to the premiere. As perks, we were given full-size Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys, which Harper played with for years.
In Toy Story 3, things have progressed in real time. Andy has grown up and is getting ready to head off to college. And guess what? Harper is 18 now and leaving for college in a few short weeks. Like Andy, he is in the process of saying goodbye to his toys, his childhood, and his parents, so the poignant ending of Toy Story 3 left me crumpled in a sea of wet tissues.
Not only did Toy Story 3 have personal relevance for me, but I also appreciated its compelling story, great dialogue, engaging characters, and its technological sophistication. It’s the first movie I’ve ever seen in 3-D, and it really was a marvel, perhaps one of the best animated movies ever made.
But in spite of my enthusiasm for the movie, I would not recommend it for children under nine. Bracing myself for the backlash, I can already hear the cries of protest: “But it’s rated G!” “We took our four-year-old to see it and he LOVED it!” “Come on, it’s Disney. It’s wholesome family fun.”
Let me explain my thoughts . . .
First, it’s scary.
There are evil villains in the form of a cuddly teddy bear named Lotso, and his accomplice, Big Baby, an oversized baby doll with one permanently drooping eyelid. Teddy bears and baby dolls are familiar to, beloved and cherished by nearly every child. Do we really want to give our children the message that these objects are not to be trusted? That they can turn evil and mean? Do we want to risk that our children will be afraid to sleep in the same room with their teddy bear or dolly after seeing the movie?
And in keeping with the Disney formula, there is an intense climax scene full of adrenaline-pumping suspense in which (SPOILER ALERT) Andy’s beloved toys have been picked up by a trash truck and are headed toward incineration, thanks to the evil machinations of Lotso. Because the characters of Andy’s toys are so superbly crafted, we feel affection for them and care about them, which leaves us filled with dread and on the edge of our seats as they appear headed for certain death.
While this kind of suspense can be a thrill for older children and adults, it is not healthy for young children. In Waldorf education, our primary goal is to teach children from birth to the age of seven that the world is a good, safe and loving place. We want them to feel happy to be here, not full of fear and anxiety.
Toy Story 3 does not convey that message to young children. And yet, because it is rated G, parents are flocking to it in droves with children as young as two, three and four.
Waldorf educators recognize a big shift that occurs in a child’s consciousness during the ninth year, commonly referred to as “the nine-year change.” At around this time, a child loses her sense of being at one with the world. She becomes aware that there is evil and danger, and may feel a sense of separateness from her family. She begins to experience her own individuality, which can feel lonely.
But if we have given a child a solid foundation of warmth, love and security during her early years, she will be better able to handle the nine-year change with ease and confidence.
After the nine-year change, when a child has a heightened awareness of good and evil, stories such as Toy Story 3 can actually feed a child. At this age they actually need stories in which there is conflict and danger, and evil is overcome by good. At this age they can handle (and even enjoy) suspense. After the age of nine, a child usually has a firm grasp on the difference between reality and fiction, which a young child does not.
So I urge you to go out and see Toy Story 3. The adult-oriented humor will make you laugh out loud. If you’re like me, its poignancy will make you cry. But please, leave your young children at home. Remember, it will be available on DVD when they are older, and by then, we’ll probably all have DVD players that will even play it in 3D!
But if you’ve already seen it with your preschooler, don’t lose sleep worrying that you’ve done irreparable harm to his psyche. As parents, we do our very best for our children with the information we have.
When I was a young mother, I hadn’t yet discovered Waldorf education and didn’t know then what I know now about children and their development. I must confess that when Harper was four years old, I took him to see the original Toy Story, which had its scary moments, too.
But, like Andy, he’s grown up into a young man with a good heart, ready to make his mark in the world.
Have you seen Toy Story 3? What did you think? Did you take your children? I’d love to hear your thoughts!