Saturday, June 22, 2019

Pixar Fans Are Relieved that "Toy Story 4" Isn't Rated R

For long, Toy Story 4 battled rumors that it would be Pixar’s first film with a hard R rating. We broke the timeline down and explored whether it’s really a horror film.

Article written by George Stefano Pallas. Infantilization and bald-faced consumerism practiced by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.

Another Toy Story movie hits theaters this weekend, which means it’s once again time for parents to replenish their tissue supply. Since the very first Toy Story in 1995, Pixar have built a reputation as the preeminent animation studio telling sophisticated, emotional, grown-up stories that kids can also enjoy. It’s pretty much inarguable they make movies better than anyone else in the whole world, notwithstanding less ubiquitous competitors like Studio Ghibli, Studio Trigger, Studio Chizu, Kyoto Animation, Science Saru, Madhouse, Gainax, Shaft, Inc., CoMix Wave Films, and American Empirical Pictures.

Pixar’s thought-provoking, existentialist series about talking toys being traumatically separated from the children who play with them and finding their way back home over and over again has always held a special appeal among adults, unsurprisingly so, according to Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich. “At the end of the day, we don’t make movies for kids, we make them for everybody —for adults and ourselves,” he said two years ago while promoting Coco.

This disclosure, along with some other ambiguous signs, had many Pixar fans concerned about the forthcoming Toy Story 4 and whether parents would be forced to find a babysitter in order to go see it. Despite its G rating, Toy Story 3 caused no small amount of debate in 2010 on the movie’s suitability for young children. Cultural commentators noted that Unkrich wore his horror influences on the movie’s sleeves, particularly in the intense finale where the toys are dragged along a conveyor belt towards an open-mouthed incinerator.

“I honestly think I was more terrified than my 8-year-old back then,” says San Francisco mom Denise Schaal. “One moment Buzz Lightyear is speaking Spanish and Barbie’s doing Barbie things, the next our heroes are holding hands in a circle, face to face with death. Was Pixar about to permanently kill these characters I’d come to love and spent hundreds of dollars on between tickets, VCRs, DVDs, merchandise, and Disneyland passes? It didn’t make any sense. All I could do was cover my eyes.”

Schaal was far from the only adult to notice Pixar’s sudden pivot into more extreme and stomach-churning subject matter. “In the climax of the film, we see the toys embroiled in literal Hell,” observed Jordan Peterson, controversial professor of psychology at the university of Toronto, in one of his YouTube videos. “They flinch and recoil at the sight of this all-consuming evil and join hands in a symbolic gesture of prayer. It’s only through their belief in a higher power that a celestial claw descends from above to save them from the inferno, sealing the redemption and resurrection themes of the whole saga that make Toy Story an indispensable piece of American mythology.”

Other viewers brought different yet no less troubling readings to the film, including the popular view that the plight of the toys in the incinerator subtly evokes the Holocaust. Unkrich has never addressed the fan theory that he intentionally used visual parallels to real death camps responsible for millions of tragedies in order to imbue Toy Story 3 with more dramatic heft. Still, Toy Story fans wondered obsessively if Pixar had outgrown their original audience. Tellingly, the chair of the MPAA later admitted that the ratings board had made a mistake by not restricting Toy Story 3 enough. “It should have been PG-13 at the very least,” she said. “Based on that 70-second scene where nobody gets hurt alone.”

When Pixar continued their dark streak with the violent spy movie Cars 2, the depressing psychological drama Inside Out, the macabre Coco, and the white-knuckle, gritty Incredibles 2, the pattern did little to allay fans’ worst fears that Toy Story would finally receive an R rating.

“I don’t have a problem in principle with creators changing over time and trying out new styles,” says Chapman University sophomore Aishna Feyer. “But when you make the choice to exclude like an entire group from seeing your vision, I don’t see how anybody benefits from that. Pixar are the ones who inspired me to become a filmmaker, like they’re the reason I’m here getting a film degree. Imagine if millions of little girls didn’t have that source of inspiration to go to college for an arts degree.”

Pixar’s silence on Toy Story 4 in the months leading up to it amplified uncertainty about both the genre and the rating of the movie. The revelation that Jordan Peele, director of the terrifying Us, had joined the cast seemed to affirm that Toy Story was sticking to the horror route established in the last film. The use of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” in the first trailer also raised eyebrows: would the new film depict Woody’s slide into marijuana and LSD addiction? Or would the studio shaped by John Lasseter leverage the return of Bo Peep to comment on #MeToo and unwanted touching in the workplace? Some journalists at Slate and The Verge welcomed the possibility, but Toy Story purists weren’t sold.

On Monday, though, families exhaled a collective sigh of relief when the MPAA dealt Toy Story 4 a strong G rating, the same as more than half of Pixar’s films aimed at adults. For the near future at least, Toy Story is safe for the whole family, with a few caveats.

“I’m scared to go back,” Schaal says about the new movie. “My baby is about to graduate high school now; he watches really horrifying stuff like Logan, Deadpool, Alien:Covenant. I just don’t know if I can make it through another two hours of Toy Story in one piece.” She adds with a laugh, “Maybe I’ll have him preview it for me.”
Parental doubts aside, Toy Story 4 is expected easily to sweep the box office this weekend over The Secret Life of Pets 2, Men In Black 4, John Wick 3, Child’s Play (2019), Aladdin (2019), Shaft (2019), Dark Phoenix, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Avengers: Endgame.

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