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Why I Cried Watching Toy Story 4

Yes, you read that title correctly! I am a 35-year-old man—6’5”, 275 lbs. to be exact—who cried watching Toy Story 4. This wasn’t an, “Oh, that’s sweet” type of cry. It was an ugly cry. It was an, “Oh, that is heart-wrenching” type. Now before you judge me, or after you are done judging me (haters gonna hate), let me share the story and reason behind this. For those who have not seen the movie, no worries. This is a *spoiler-free* article!

Earlier this month, our family went to see the 4th installment of the 24-year old marvel that is the Toy Story series. Being a 90s kid myself, I was really looking forward to sharing this moment with my wife, 5-year-old son, and 3-year-old daughter. After we got to our seats, moved the kids around four times so that they could be perfectly corralled, and the movie began rolling, I could finally let my guard down and settle in for another fun journey with Woody and Buzz. It was a time to escape and enjoy. Well, the actual experience was the complete opposite.

Within ten minutes, my son looked up at me with a confused look and said, “Dad, are you crying?” Of course I said, “No son, there is just something in my eye.” (Now you can judge me for lying to a 5-year old). He rolled his eyes and turned back to the movie.

This process would occur about four more times over the next two hours. It was hard to detach from the emotion I was experiencing. See, there was a tragedy in the story that I really struggled with. Before going on, please know that it was truly a great movie and you should go see it. With that being said, the thing that bothered me was something that really made the movie great in itself. It was a theme, a theme of fear.

At almost every point in the movie, it seemed that one of the characters was struggling with the fear of rejection and the desire for acceptance. Whether it was through a toy, a parent, or a little girl, I could see my own fear. While the characters were make-believe, the struggle with raw emotion was real. Tears came with each fearful moment.

After returning home, I thought through that experience and came to the conclusion that what we are afraid of individually is also a collective fear that we all experience. There is a pattern in our lives that reverberated throughout the Toy Story narrative.

  1. We all want to know who we are.
  2. We all want to be accepted for who we are.
  3. We all experience pain when we feel that we have been rejected for who we are.
  4. We all, therefore, fear sharing who we are with others because we may be rejected.

This is a tragic cycle. We all feel the same yet resist vulnerability because others may not find us acceptable. We think, “If they knew I liked ____ or struggle with ____, they will not like me.” This can turn into the development of insecure personal protections. We say, “Well, I won’t even get to know them because I don’t want to give them the opportunity to reject me. They probably will anyway.”

Finally, we act by not entering into any intimate relationships out of fear even though we desperately want deep relationships. This cycle is dangerous and unhealthy because, at the end of the day, we are still the little kids who want loving friends and family. We are just running away from the same people we want love from and, at the same time, missing the opportunity to love them right back.

Lastly, it is in this space of fear that we tend to label ourselves and/or others in order to separate ourselves. The labels we apply to our identities can be tied to social status, sexuality, and material items to name a few. For Scottsdale, money and the amount one has is a big label people put on themselves. To be honest with you, I have served the rich and the poor. No matter what’s in their bank account, they are equally broken and empty when they cling to that label. It is an empty identity like every other label.

The only spoiler that may come from this message is that Woody himself had a label. In past movies, his owner Andy wrote his name on Woody’s foot. In this one, it was Bonnie (see Toy Story 3). His entire existence was about pleasing his owners and trying to be valued by them. He completely identified himself as “their toy” and didn’t find peace until he confronted that truth.

Now, this may sound like a silly question, but “whose name is on your foot?” For me, I try hard to embrace God as my owner…my Savior…my Father. While I will always argue that our relationship with God is the main one to nurture, you may not be in that place right now. I encourage each of us to take a moment to reflect on what our labels are and who gave them to us.

By vulnerably searching for the right label, we will find that the Label Maker is the same for each of us. We will discover that we don’t have to fear anything because we will find out who we are, that we are already accepted because of Him, and that pain is the thing that will be rejected. Once we do this, we can all share that commonality together.

So, why did I cry? I cried because after seeing those cute characters’ relational desires, I could almost taste my own painful desire for the same. Well, why don’t I cry all the time? Simply put, I know my label and I know my Owner. It is through Him that I have access to the others He has stamped His label on, and it is through that common bond that I vulnerably open up. Lastly, while the other toys may reject me, my Owner never will.