Toy Story and Up | How Animation Conveys Our Deepest Emotions

Many consider animation to be a waste of time, something for young children and nothing more. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The so called one dimensionalism that many consider animation to be is actually often a deeply complex study into the human psyche, a thing which cinema has done for years.

Animation and cinema go hand in hand, with cartoons allowing filmmakers to play out scenarios that may not be possible or fit into the world of live action. Many, if not all animations – especially larger productions – have underlying dark concepts hidden beneath their outer shell. To see this, we need look no further than Pixar, one of the companies that have helped cement deeper meanings within the genre. Take for instance, the 2009 release Up.

At first glance, the film is a comedic adventure with a talking dog and houses that float through the sky with the aid of colourful balloons. However, through its elderly protagonist, it tackles difficult subjects such as coping with loss, aging and loneliness – real world problems that affect people in society every single day. There is a beauty to the fact that a family friendly movie like Up can be so powerful, showcasing characters who alongside their non-realistic adventures face problems we can recognise.

The Toy Story quadrilogy does this perfectly too, each film managing to tackle a new challenge humans face. Thus, the franchise provides a medium to explain real world problems to people, especially to a younger audience.


The first entry in the series deals with change and adapting to a new lifestyle. Who amongst us has not had this? Be it a new job, home etc. Toy Story 2 looks at love and friendship. The third explores growing up, moving on and letting go of things that either hold us back or that we never want to leave behind. The fourth film from this year deals with becoming older, feeling a lack of worth and coping with and moving forward from this.

Looking at the franchise as a whole, we see the development of Woody as a character. He grows in maturity throughout the series, moving from childhood through to adulthood – a fitting turn given the films are about toys. This progression is so powerful because for a lot of viewers, we have grown up alongside Woody over the four movies.

That transition in Woody is a reason why animation can never be so one dimensional. It’s complex, full of emotion and a medium that allows audiences to empathise with and relate to others. Just because these characters may be a fish, a blue furry monster or a robot on a planet full of rubbish doesn’t make the emotions we feel any different than if these figures were seen in live action. Animation conveys our deepest emotions and like cinema, puts them onto the screen – even if we don’t see it straight away.

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