i) Woody, Eden, and the Round-up Gang
Come on, gather round
Where nobody wears a frown
Bad guys go running
Whenever he’s in town
He’s the rootinest, tootinest, shootinest, hootinest cowboy around
Well, here’s some hype about the Round-up Gang: not at all what it’s actually like. With a guy like The Prospector Stinky Pete as the rotten apple in the Round-up Gang’s barrel; well, it’s hardly an outfit where ‘nobody wears a frown’?
Sure there’s the hype, after all, we’re selling cereals; and to kids; so everything has just got to go just dandy; with simple happy endings all round. How much cereal would you sell if Woody lit out on his Gang during the commercial break: or if Prospector shanghaied and ruined the whole Round-up Gang?
Of course ‘in real life’ Prospector does try to shanghai the Gang, and get it wholesale to Japan into the Museum there – for an infinity and beyond. But that’s real life, and not the commercial break pap.
Like Stuart Little and Snowbell, the Round-up Gang are all ‘family’; well, there would have liked us to think they were, perhaps? In the eyes of their whole cereal-eating juvenile audiences the Round-up Gang were indeed family; on the face of things. And do kids really dig any deeper? No, that’s their charm and their innocence.
What’s really happening in the movie is that Prospector is willing to do almost any dirty trick to get Woody, in his role as head of the Round-up Gang, overseas to Japan with rest of the Gang, and even carries on trying, using foul means, even after Woody has recanted of his silly former star struck ambition to be ‘a somebody’ in Japan.
Remember John Lennon?
‘You gotta live: You gotta love
You gotta be somebody
You gotta shove
But it’s hard
It’s so hard
Sometimes I think I’m going down’
There’s a role model!
The whole thing about Toy Story 2 hangs completely on the fact that Woody does recant; that he sees sense, or gets things in perspective, or comes to his right mind, or TURNS AROUND, or whatever.
He turns around and reverses his ill-judged hasty rash decision to ditch his old ‘Family’; that family that is Andy and his Toy friends; that fantastic collection of Toys who have sorely travailed looking to rescue him.
Woody has been seduced, not in the sexual sense by Jessie or something, but by bright lights, fame, renown, primacy of place, and most of all, by the commercial TV image of the Round-up Gang. This image is the cement, the fabulous tie of kinship, the binding of the Round-up Gang; the story that creates them as a social unit. But it exists only on celluloid and also in we sorry people’s dearest deepest dreams and aspirations.
So, all credit to Woody for having aspirations that persuade him to stay with the Gang, aspirations are not bad in themselves; but there’s more than an inkling of self-deception and self-aggrandisement in Woody’s overawed willingness to relinquish his whole former life, friendships, and history and go along with the Gang.
Woody commits to the Gang and to the Japan museum idea, only once he has seen himself on TV in the starring role of the stories, and has revelled in all the various commercial merchandising surrounding him as that star. The Round-up Gang he chooses is a seductive figment; and his choice is in fact an outright rejection of his (former) loved ones. So there’s a little bit of me, me, me, in Woody’s choosing Japan.
Hear, hear, George Harrison:
‘All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one’s frightened of playing it
Ev’ryone’s saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru’ your life I me mine.’
And there’s that crucially ironic line, spoken crucially to Woody, and spoken crucially unconsciously ironically by Prospector Pete himself:
‘Why, you don’t even know who you are, do you?’
Woody truly doesn’t know who he is; not in the trivial literal sense Prospector means, of him being Leader of the Round-up Gang; but in a spiritual and a very personal sense of understanding himself, he has low self-knowledge. He stays ignorant of his own deepest nature until he has chosen the trappings of the world and has opted for fame and fortune, and then thereafter has come to his senses and rejected these tempting lures. He rejects them upon his realisation of what is his better self, and is a better choice; of a life with his dearest, oldest friends and family.
Then, and not before can we believe that Woody truly has come to a knowledge of ‘who he really is’
So, what’s all this the about The Boring Bible then? I’d rather watch Toy Story than read The Bible. No contest anytime.
So I guess I’m going to have to come to a compromise here, to help people from dropping away with weariness, fear and distrust from continuing to read, now that Bible has been mentioned. Even curiosity and puzzlement as to how all this links up together with the Bible only stretches a reader’s patience so far.
So get this and see if you can appreciate it:
‘Why then was this forbid? Why, but to awe;
Why, but to keep ye low and ignorant,
His worshippers? He knows that in the day
Ye eat thereof, your eyes that seem so clear,
Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then
Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as Gods,
Knowing both good and evil, as they know.’
This is the serpent to Adam and Eve in the Garden; urging why they should eat the forbidden fruit. It’s all about aspiration, just like Woody’s aspirations were aroused by Prospector and by the TV commercials and by the array of Round-up Gang merchandising.
All the elements are here. The ulterior motives of Prospector and of the serpent; the slyness and low deeds they each use to enforce their wills; the mistake both Adam and Eve, and Woody, make of harbouring a desire for an apparently higher harmonic state that looks apparently available to be had. And then there is the Round-up Gang TV hype along with the serpent’s propaganda, which feed Woody’s, and Adam and Eve’s, harboured desire of great advantages to be had (but that are not in fact available).
But doesn’t Woody turn it around? And get back with Andy and his lifelong friends; even bringing Jessie and Bullseye along to boot? Whereas for Adam and Eve there’s no turning around, no going back: and for Eve and her soul-mate, it is, as the poet says:
‘After such knowledge; what forgiveness?’
Let’s look at Turning it Around. Woody turns it around; he repents of his mistaken choice. Repent is to Turn Around. People only turn around their lives by way of having had a realisation of repentance within their inmost selves; whether in the light of God or within the light of some ideal that is sacred to them. Woody’s is a sacred ideal I guess; but the outlook looks worse here for Adam and Eve (for us?) doesn’t it.
We, as children of Eve (let’s say so for now anyway) have somehow to forget and so erase, obliterate from our consciousness and consciences what we have experienced upon our having had a life-changing event hit us head-on. Then we can return idyllically to our former state. In reality were we really able to forget this type of trauma, the likeliest reason is that we have gone gaga; otherwise we know we won’t ever forget, never.
Try a bit more verse:
‘Soon found their eyes how opened, and their minds
How darkened; innocence, that as a veil
Had shadowed them from knowing ill, was gone’
This is Adam and Eve after eating the fruit.
So what surprises us about Adam and Eve, then? That they too, like us, just cannot carry on regardless? After their life together has hit a smash? So Bible 5/5 Toy Story 2/5 when it comes to relevance to how we really do have to deal with our lives?
‘After such knowledge; what forgiveness?’
Whose forgiveness? At the very least our own; we never forgive ourselves our biggest mess-ups. Who doesn’t look back and cringe with pain and dismay about something that went totally badly that we were implicated in?
So: no going back on ourselves. Turning Around yes: but no whitewashing the past. Lucky Woody can say comfortingly, after handling Prospector out of the way and saving Jessie:
‘Let’s go home’
But our personal human experience of loss of innocence in our lives (maybe not in Pixar movies) is in some sense an understanding within ourselves that we can never really ever go home anymore. Not really home, to that place where all is hunky dory and flying boys never grow up. That, for us, has become all a thing of the past.
‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things’
As Groucho Marx once said ; ‘Time wounds all heels’; but true too is it that time is a great healer; because time mellows us, and leavens us (to use a biblical image); making us less harsh on ourselves, and in tandem with this we are now become more merciful to others.
Like Oliver Cromwell wanted himself remembered, we accept our friends and our family ‘warts and all’.
In the same way there’s a muted aspect to the resolution at the end of Toy Story 2. It is one that recognises ‘warts and all’. There are Woody and the Toys-Rex, Ham, Slinky, Buzz, Etch, The Potato Heads- all of whom are very aware that their time with Andy is fatally limited; that the day shall come when they shall no longer be played with. This indeed is the very reason why Woody returns to Andy and to his Toy friends; because the human experience of joy is abruptly limited by time and circumstance; and this is why it must be let into one’s life, and why Woody exclaims at this point so triumphantly, ‘And, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!’
And while we are on endings, even on muted happy endings, there is another ending I would like to share with you, one of Adam and Eve repentant, after loss of Eden; but nonetheless, enjoying a tender resolution to their story:
‘Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.’