Toy Story, Christmas and the Act of Surrender

MV5BOTc2OTA1MDM4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjczMDk5MjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Since I was a kid, my all time favorite cartoon Christmas specials have been How The Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Until this year. When I added a third one to the list.

At the beginning of the month, we DVRed the Disney Pixar animated short Toy Story That Time Forgot which features the characters from the beloved Toy Story franchise.

The show opens with Bonnie (the new owner of Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the gang from Toy Story 3, Toy Story Toons and Toy Story of Terror) playing with her toys two days after Christmas (but still in the Christmas season, mind you).

After Bonnie leaves the room for a bit, Trixie the Triceratops expresses her disappointment over not being played with as a ferocious dinosaur. Instead Bonnie makes her a goblin fairy, a customer at an ice cream shop, and a baby reindeer while the part of the dinosaur is played only by Rex or another toy. In this particular moment, the toy Bonnie chooses to be a prehistoric beast (or Kittysaurus) is an adorable Christmas Tree Ornament named Angel Kitty.

Angel Kitty is a cute toy who only utters simple (but profound in retrospect) philosophical-theological sayings. After Trixie finishes her rant, Bonnie races back into the room to pack up Buzz, Woody, Rex, Trixie and Angel Kitty for a play-date with her friend Mason.

After being referred to again as a baby reindeer, Trixie lets out a loud sigh, prompting Angel Kitty to say “Greet the world with an open heart.” Trixie, of course, just rolls her eyes and the rest of the group gives the kitten puzzled stares because they don’t know what to make of the newcomer’s positive tone.

When Bonnie arrives at Mason’s house to find her friend playing a brand new virtual reality video game system in the upstairs den, the girl tosses her toys into Mason’s playroom and picks up a pair of googles and a game controller.

The gang is stoked about Mason’s video game system, especially Rex, the video game junkie, who while shaking his small T-rex hands, remarks “You’ve got to be kidding me! He got an Optimus X for Christmas!…Sadly, the controls are beyond my limitations.”

Angel Kitty responds matter-of-factually: “Limitations are the shackles we bind ourselves.” Again, her companions look at her puzzled.

Buzz, Woody, etc. then climb out of Bonnie’s backpack and soon discover that Mason has also received a brand new toy line of battling dinosaurs called Battlesaurs, which have been taken out of their boxes and set up in a corner of the room.

TSTTF-2-300x168The Battlesaurrs are led by Reptillus Maximus and the Cleric. Trixie is delighted that she has found her place in a toy set filled with dinosaurs. Reptillus takes an excited Trixie (and Rex) to get suited up in their own battle armor while unbeknownst to them, the Cleric kidnaps Woody, Buzz and Angel Kitty, to be used later in gladiatorial combat ring known as the “Arena of Woe.”  As Reptillus shows Trixie his home, the two become smitten with one another and the worlds they live in.

During a conversation atop Reptillus lair, Trixie says to the brave warrior: “You must have the most amazing play-times.” Reptillus, unfamiliar with the concept of play-time, asks Trixie to explain. She goes on: “You know, play. When you give yourself over to a kid.”  Trixie’s words startle Reptillus who replies: “Giving is surrender! A Battlesaur would never surrender!”

Later, the two are called into the “Arena of Woe” to battle. Initially Trixie believes it’s all pretend play until Reptillus starts tearing apart Mason’s old toys who have also entered the ring, a plastic penguin and an old Sock Monkey. Turns out that Reptillus and the other Battlesaurs, except for the Cleric, don’t know they are toys. Mason has never played with them since he’s been sucked in by his video games. And the wise but evil Cleric is determined to keep the others in the dark so he can remain their ruler.

When Buzz, Woody and Angel Kitty are thrust into the arena, Trixie stands up to Reptillus and makes him stop, only to reveal that she has the name of Bonnie on her foot (just like Woody and Buzz had “Andy” the name of their previous owner’s on their feet).

The Cleric deems Trixie a “slave of obedience” and an enemy who should be disposed. Trixie narrowly escapes the arena to get Bonnie’s attention in the video game room. The Cleric commands Reptillus to go after her and while chasing Trixie, he runs into the box he came, shocked to realize he is actually an action-figure (much in the same way that Buzz learned he was not the real Buzz Lightyear in the first Toy Story film)

Back at the Battlesaur playset, the Cleric forces Rex (who is been outfitted with remote-controlled robotic arms) and the Battlesaurs to drop Woody, Buzz and Angel Kitty into a ventilation fan that would shred them apart.

136479165prejpg-e14e6b_960wWoody and Buzz scold the Cleric for doing such a dastardly deed during Christmas time. The Cleric is unfamiliar with the concept of Christmas which prompts Angel Kitty to explain with another nugget:

“The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.”

The Cleric, unfazed by the sentiment, orders Rex and the Battlesaurs to continue carrying the prisoners to their execution.  Angel Kitty then proceeds to play on her horn, a rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Meanwhile, Trixie reaches Mason’s video game power core, but Reptillus confronts her. Trixie attempt to convince Reptillus of the greatness and importance of being a toy:

Reptillus, your world is bigger than you know. Let me show you who you really are…You can be so much more! And you know it. Reptillus, it’s your kid who chooses what you’re going to be. It could be a dinosaur, a baby reindeer or something you’d never even think of. It’s about being there for your kid.

0Reptillus eyes grow wide and he replies, “(It’s about) Surrender”

And then he turns off the power switch to the video game console. As Mason reaches down to investigate, Reptillus does a trust-fall into the child’s hand. Mason stares in wonder at this awesome toy which Bonnie joyfully greets with a hello before playfully taking Reptillus from her friend and flying him around the room. Mason turns the power switch back on and prepares to play more video games, but Bonnie’s imaginative play inspires him to put down the goggles and controller to join her in the fun.

The two children race into the playroom, turn on the lights, causing all the toys to immediately freeze and thus saving Woody, Buzz and Angel Kitty from their impending doom.

An hour or so of play that involves a dance-off, the Battlesaurs, including the Cleric, are transformed by play-time and accept their role as toys who are there for their kid. They even go to bed later that night with Mason’s name written on their hands.

Trixie also is changed. Upon their return to Bonnie’s house, Trixie admits that she loves playing whatever role Bonnie assigns her.  “I’m Bonnie’s dinosaur and Bonnie’s dinosaur gets to be everything,” the triceratops says gleefully as she raises her foot with Bonnie’s name underneath.

toy-story-that-time-forgot-di-angel-kitty-1In response, Angel Kitty says sweetly: “Be grateful for your gifts, they are all around you.”

The gang looks at each other and give a collective “awwwwww.” But when they turn back to Angel Kitty, the toy ornament has disappeared.

 

I found myself moved by this entire special, much in the same way I get chill bumps when Linus tells Charlie Brown the meaning of Christmas by reciting the birth of Jesus from Luke’s gospel or when the Whos in Whoville celebrate Christmas by singing, despite the Grinch having stolen all of their decorations and presents.

The title, Toy Story That Time Forgot, is an obvious reference to the dinosaur characters but for me, the Christmas special also seemed to be a subtle nod to the story that we in modern times forget amid the hustle and bustle and commercialization of the season–the story of Emmanuel, God-with-us. The Christ child born in straw poverty in a manger.

41G-IhhPGPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This simple half-hour animated short of imagination and wonder also reminded me of the words of the 20th century Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote:

If we want to be part of these events,

Advent and Christmas, we cannot just sit there like a theater audience

and enjoy all the lovely pictures.

Instead, we ourselves will be caught up

in this action,

this reversal of all things;

we must become actors on this stage.

For this is a play in which each spectator has

a part to play,

and we cannot hold back.

What will our role be?

Worshipful shepherds bending the knee,

or kings bringing gifts?

What is being enacted

when Mary becomes the mother of God,

when God enters the world

in a lowly manger?

We cannot come to this manger

in the same way that we would approach

the cradle of any other child.

Something will happen to each of us

who decides to come to Christ’s manger.

Each of us will have been judged or redeemed

before we go away.

Each of us will either break down,

or come to know that God’s mercy is turned

toward us…

What does it mean

to say such things about the Christ child?…

It is God, the Lord and Creator of all things,

who becomes so small here,

comes to us in a little corner of the world,

unremarkable and hidden away,

who wants to meet us and be among us as a helpless, defenseless child.

Middle Eastern "Mini-Nativity" by Kate Cosgrove
Middle Eastern “Mini-Nativity” by Kate Cosgrove

So what does it look like for us in this Christmas season if each of us greets the world with an open heart, frees ourselves from the shackle of limitations that bind us, gives joy to others, and are grateful for the gifts that are all around us?

What does it look like if we recognize that the world is bigger than we know and that the God to whom we forever belong chooses many wondrous roles for us to play in this life?

What does it look like if we set aside our personal agendas and desires for conquest to be there for the Christ-child who chooses to take on the role of humanity so that all might know unconditional love and mercy?

What does it look like if we are part of God’s story, God’s play and God’s imagination?

What does it look if we surrender?

 

 

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