Obviously, that love looks different depending on the characters and their relationships to others in the movie. It could be a father who loves his son enough to cross and entire ocean to bring him back home (Finding Nemo), or an adorable robot who loves a stranger enough to protect her even when she shows no interest in him in return (Wall-E), or a superhero who loves truth and justice and the generic citizenry of the world enough to risk his life multiple times to save people (The Incredibles).
But in Toy Story, we get to see a hero growing and progressing through three movies. Here’s what I noticed about Woody’s character. I call it “The Four Levels of Love Theory.” Catchy, I know. Anyway, here they are:
- Selfish Love
- I’m helping this person…but it’s really for me.
- Ex: In the original Toy Story, Woody and Buzz are stuck at a gas station, away from their owner Andy. Woody helps Buzz get back to Andy, but only because he knows the other toys will kill him if he doesn’t.
- Friendly Love
- This person is my friend, so I want to help him.
- Ex: At the end of the first Toy Story, Woody inspires Buzz to stop feeling sorry for himself and escape from Sid.
- Hero Love
- Even though I don’t know this person and he can’t do anything for me, I’ll still try to help him.
- Ex: In Toy Story 2, Woody goes to the garage sale to save Wheezy from being sold, even though he’s little more than a forgotten acquaintance of his.
- Christ-like Love
- This person is my enemy, but I’ll help him anyway.
- Ex: When about to be shredded in the dump during Toy Story 3, Woody goes back to save Lotso, the evil pink bear, risking his own life in the process.
By the end of the first movie, I liked Woody much better than I did at the beginning (jealousy, while understandable, isn’t a very endearing trait). After the second movie, I would call him a true hero. But after the third movie, I wanted to be like him. I knew in the back of my mind that Lotso would just betray Woody at the first possible opportunity, but I still wanted to cheer when Woody saved him. Why?
Because it wasn’t about doing what was smart. It was about doing what was right.
Instinctively, everyone knows that the fourth kind of love is what makes the good guy good, what separates him from everyone else. It touches something deep inside of us. We doubt that we’d do the same in a similar situation…but it just feels right, somehow. The story was supposed to end that way, and it would feel incomplete if it didn’t.
That’s because the story did end that way. Jesus, the ultimate hero, died for us. Not us, the nice Christians with hands passing the offering plate and mouths singing perfectly on-key hymns. Not even us, the nice Americans with good intentions and patriotism and morality.
Jesus died for us, his enemies. He died when we were still turning our backs on God. He died for a race of spiteful, selfish, angry, bitter, hateful humans capable of mind-numbing acts of barbarism and, perhaps even more startling, daily, quiet acts of deliberate rebellion.
We know what a true hero looks like. A true hero looks like Jesus.