My kids have led me to wreck and ruin

To Toy Story 3 with the children. I know enough by now about my own state of mind and the efficiency with which the good people of Pixar can churn the human heart, so I am bracing myself. In what proves to be only the first of many emotional moments during the course of the afternoon, I find that the cost of taking three children and myself to the cinema at Westfield is over £70. There is a cheaper cinema in the shopping complex but, perhaps deliberately, it is not showing the film at the only time I can make it without removing the children from school.

As I stumble, ashen-faced, from the counter, one of the children says: "You've won!" - meaning that it is I, and not their mother, who has "won" the honour of taking them to see this film, which they have been looking forward to for some time. Not having been aware that there was any contest in the first place, I murmur to myself the words of the Greek: "Another victory like that, and we're done for."

As for the film, I am well aware that age has softened both my head and my heart.

I think it has something to do with having children. Once, when we were on a somewhat idealist mission to have the eldest child grow up bilingual, we got hold of a video of 101 Dalmatians (the original Disney cartoon) in French. For some reason, this gave the film an added poignancy and, whenever I watched it with the eldest, I would find myself in bits by the time Pongo manages to get his owner married.

This trend of getting emotional at the movies has continued. Everyone cries at the beginning of A Matter of Life and Death, but I realised things were getting out of hand when I found tears trickling down my face at the end of Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. As for The Simpsons Movie - don't get me started. (The image of Homer Simpson adrift on an ice floe the shape of a broken heart haunts me to this day, to
the extent that I am not sure if I am the same man as I was before I saw it.)

Anyway, to the entertainment. It turns out that the reason the tickets were so expensive is that the cinema is a luxury one: the screen is larger than the typical glorified TV screen of the modern multiplex, and the seats are larger than the average armchair, with softly glowing panels upon which you can rest your drink and your popcorn. (Which, wise now to the grasping ways of cinema operators, I have instructed the fruit of the Lezard loins to buy on the Uxbridge Road and then smuggle in themselves.) This is all quite exciting. I was intrigued by the excellent Ryan Gilbey's review of the film in the previous week's New Statesman. Disappointing, eh? Good - less chance of me being turned into an emotional wreck by the end.

The crying game

Ah. With all due respect, Mr Gilbey, you did not see this film with three children of your own, all of whom were bringing with them their own memories and expectations. (They have, literally, grown up with the first two Toy Story films; my eldest is as old as the first one.)

Just as the toys in the film aren't just toys, but concentrations of childhood and nostalgia for it, so children are more than just your offspring, and their own beings: they are, inadvertently, what you invest them with as well.

I have to salute the ingenuity of the film's creators. Even allowing that I'm a sentimental old fool, they sure know how to put an audience through the wringer. At one point, I realise that I am not so much watching a movie as submitting myself to a ruthlessly efficient machine for making people cry. I am not sure whether this is an advance or a regression in the art form.

I try to look at the film as a Marxist critique of disposable capitalist society (although, like all children's films, it's hardcore conservative); I dredge up some mangled Lacan with which to interpret its themes of loss and desire. I even try to distract myself by contemplating Barbie's disturbingly cute bottom.

But it is no good. The final minutes of the film (which come after scenes of such infernal distress that I wonder whether young children should even
be allowed to see it), as Andy hands over his toys to a younger child, and then, in a moment for which all the toys have been yearning for years, plays with them one last time, have been almost sadistically crafted to prompt sobs.

It is perhaps only this realisation that stops me from losing it altogether. As we leave, shattered, I resolve to watch something more soothing next time. Like Psycho.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Politics and comedy