Sep 24 2010

An unexpected similarity between Toy Story 3 and Nightmare on Elm Street

Published by at 1:42 am under Uncategorized

I watched Toy Story 3 and the original Nightmare on Elm Street today.  The Toy Story films and the original Nightmare on Elm Street are the only suburban-set movies I’ve encountered that avoid overused themes about conformity and/or hypocrisy (unlike American Beauty, Stepford Wives, Little Children, etc).   I found it refreshing that neither Toy Story nor Nightmare had a desperate love affair by a repressed housewife or a completely dysfunctional family trying to keep up appearances or other such suburban cliches.

Suburban (and rural) settings don’t come up all that often in superhero stories. I think urban settings make for easier action because there are more high-profile targets, more criminals, more people to save, etc. However, unless your story is all action all the time, that might not be a huge problem. For example, much of The Incredibles used a suburban setting, which was pretty effective in a story where one of the central decisions was whether to accept a safe, mundane existence or to be extraordinary. (It’s hardly the first story to take a somewhat condescending attitude to suburbia, but I thought the “we urbanites are more enlightened than you” implication was much softer than in, say, American Beauty).

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “An unexpected similarity between Toy Story 3 and Nightmare on Elm Street”

  1. koryon 24 Sep 2010 at 6:24 am

    as a lifelong resident of suburbia I consider myself an expert in this field. 😉

    I see it as making the setting fit the story.

    A majority of Stephen King’s work concerns itself with the eccentricities of small towns in new england. With China Mieville the setting is almost always gritty and urban. Much of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place in the unrelenting freeze of winter, and as such it is a metaphor for many of the people in the book. Stuck, distant, unable to move on with their lives.

    I think the trend towards associating suburbia with some kind of metaphor about hypocrisy or conformity is a desire to allow the setting to fit the tone and message and not vice versa. Suburbia thus becomes the whipping boy for America’s pent up angst.

    With Toy Story and Nightmare on Elm st. I think the setting was chosen to make it identifiable to the audience. In Nightmare on Elm st. it adds to the fright effect because most suburbanites associate their environment with a sense of safety, particularly when compared to urban settings. This is not a threat you can avoid by moving further into the burbs. Its akin to avoiding a bear by crawling into a small cave, only to find a wolf lives there.

  2. Contra Gloveon 24 Sep 2010 at 7:02 am

    I don’t hate suburbia, nor do I see it as this horrible place. Not saying you see it this way, B. Mac, I’m just tiring of this “suburbia = Chaotic Evil” cliche.

    Note the NPR piece that said that increasingly, suburbia isn’t made up of traditional nuclear families — as if those are bad things. The non-white bit I don’t mind at all, being black myself. 🙂

    Granted, stories about suburbia are more interesting when the denizens are mob families or other unsavory sorts, but it can still be done without cursing suburbia as this horrible hellhole. To be fair, the inner city doesn’t get treated particularly well either.

  3. B. Macon 24 Sep 2010 at 9:57 am

    “Not saying you see it this way, B. Mac, I’m just tiring of this “suburbia = Chaotic Evil” cliche.” Me too! Toy Story 3 and the Nightmare on Elm Street were notably positive portrayals of suburbia. In the Nightmare on Elm Street, there are no villainous people in the town except Freddy Krueger. The parents, although they’re in denial about the supernatural horror that is striking the neighborhood, are genuinely concerned for her wellbeing. In contrast, in most movies like the Stepford Wives, the townsfolk are generally obnoxious and/or dangerous. In American Beauty, there was hardly anyone in the town that wasn’t totally screwed up.

  4. Lighting Manon 24 Sep 2010 at 10:56 am

    Just to be clear, we are talking about the movie in which Robert Englund brutally kills youths as revenge for their parents brutally murdering him by cooking him alive, right? I haven’t seen the remake, which might be the topic of discussion so I don’t know how much they changed besides the fact that he stole Dark Man’s make-up kit.

    I think that any community which could as a group, violently commit a murder and than go about business as usual for twenty years until the man they murdered emerges as a supernatural killer is much more off-kilter than Kevin Spacey fantasizing about a teenage girl or a violent homophobic neighbor. Particularly the part where they rummaged around his remains, taking ominous souvenirs to show their children as evidence of the act when they get drunk following the violent murder of several of their friends.

    Not that I necessarily disagree that both didn’t have surprisingly positive views on suburban life, but I really wouldn’t say that American Beauty had worse citizens than Elm Street did. You’d have to imagine that the killer in American Beauty, even if he didn’t get caught, might make a few lifestyle changes in response to his actions.

  5. Lighting Manon 24 Sep 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I meant to post this originally but forgot. I certainly think you have a great point though, because unlike the examples that you provided such as American Beauty and all that, the issues for the parents and even the murder don’t occur because of or arise out of suburbia, which avoids the overused themes you mentioned as well, but rather out of concern you mention and basic parental instincts.

  6. B. Macon 24 Sep 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I haven’t seen the remake, so my understanding of the plot is based entirely on the original.

    “I think that any community which could as a group, violently commit a murder and than go about business as usual for twenty years until the man they murdered emerges as a supernatural killer is much more off-kilter than Kevin Spacey fantasizing about a teenage girl or a violent homophobic neighbor.”

    I don’t know. So, Freddy Kruger killed ~20 children in the area and got off on a technicality because a search warrant wasn’t signed in the right place (according to the mother). When the vigilante parents found him, he was in the cave where he had brought his murder victims, playing with knives. At that point, I think killing him would probably have been a morally justifiable act of preemptive self-defense. (Was there any doubt he would try to kill again?)

    Moreover, I think they show signs that killing Freddy was not easy for them. For example, the mother (the only person we know for sure was in the mob) appears to have been shaken so badly by the experience that she takes to alcohol. She kept Freddy’s knives, which could be construed as creepy, but I thought it was a comforting reminder that he couldn’t hurt any more children and that she’d have to live with her decision to kill him.

    In contrast, EVERYBODY in American Beauty is a total wreck of a human being.
    –Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty is a pot-smoking, unemployed father that lusts after a high school student and wastes his family’s money on a muscle car, tries blackmailing his company with a false sexual harassment charge, and applies for a burger-flipping position so as to minimize his responsibilities. I also got the impression he was potentially violent/abusive based on throwing his plate at the wall during an argument.

    –His wife is also unfaithful, pathologically dishonest, unfeeling, deliberates about killing him and repeatedly mocks both him and their daughter and slaps her daughter. The only reason she doesn’t divorce him is because he would be entitled to half of her money.

    –The daughter hates both of her parents and has her friend (Angela) over for the night even after she knows that her father is sexually obsessed with Angela. She complains when her dad shows up at her cheerleading performance because she doesn’t want him to care. Later on she complains that he doesn’t care enough.

    –Spacey’s company fires him to save money, while the boss is spending $50,000 on a company credit card on a prostitute.

    –Angela, the girl Spacey falls for, is wildly promiscuous and is (like everybody else in the movie) totally uncaring.

    –Ricky the neighbor is not only a drug dealer and a peeping tom but also enjoys taping his neighbors and a homeless woman dying on the street (“because it was amazing”) and dead animals (“because they’re beautiful”) and nearly killed someone for making fun of his haircut.

    –The Marine hates gay people and is totally in denial about where his drug-dealing son’s money comes from, beats up his son when the son finds out the Marine is probably a Nazi sympathizer, beat him up before when he bombed out of military school, throws his son out after thinking he’s gay, makes a gay pass on Spacey (WTF!?! This made absolutely no sense except that the writers apparently wanted to add hypocrisy to his list of sins), and kills Spacey after seeing him do something that looks like raping his son.

    In short, I don’t think there is anybody in this neighborhood who demonstrates any shred of human decency, sociability or mental health. The guy that probably comes close is Spacey’s character, for refusing to have sex with a high school student (Angela) after he learns that she’s a virgin, which makes him realize that his carnal fantasies were just that). He asks Angela how his daughter is doing, if she’s happy, which suggests some scrap of empathy even if his daughter has completely shut herself off from him.

  7. Trumwillon 05 Oct 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Suburbia is often portrayed relatively positively and non-dysfunctionally when it comes to family sitcoms that usually take place in a suburby locale, but the main thing is that it’s not explicitly suburbia, so there’s not the push for commentary. It’s when they decide to make a point of it being suburbia that they start getting long-winded in explaining why suburbia is soul-deadening.

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