Why Toy Story 3 is evil

This post was written by Owen on August 1, 2010
Posted Under: Reviews,Satire

Toy Story 3 is many things: heartwarming, tragic, nuanced, beautiful, and, if you stop to think about it, really quite disturbing. Not just because of all the dark ‘adult’ themes that so many critics have picked up on, but also because of the message. And yes, to forestall the chorus of objection that I’m sure this review is about to receive, of course it has a damn message. It’s produced by Pixar for Disney, and since those companies are part of big Hollywood studios and their films are aimed at kids, those films have messages, and those messages aren’t subtle. The message in Wall-E? Our lazy, wasteful Western lifestyles are killing the planet. Monsters Inc? Don’t be scared of something just because it’s unfamiliar. The Incredibles? Elitism is good, and vigilante justice isn’t half bad either (basically the exact polar opposite of Watchmen). And Toy Story 3? The only way to be safe and happy is to be the possession of one of your social superiors, who you should stick with no matter how badly they treat you, and the promise of liberty is nothing but an illusion.

Image: coolinsights/flickr

The plot, very briefly, is as follows (spoiler warning, obviously). Andy is going to college, and his mother demands that he decide what to do with his old toys. Or what’s left of them, anyway; a lot of the toys from the previous films, including Woody’s beloved Bo Peep, have already gone, presumably thrown out (and, as becomes clear, later incinerated). The remaining toys are understandably apprehensive about their future, but Woody – who as Andy’s favourite and oldest toy occupies a relatively privileged position, as illustrated shortly afterwards by Andy choosing Woody alone to take with him to college – tells them they should trust Andy to do the right thing and remain loyal to him (despite the fact that he hasn’t played with them – the raison d’être for toys, obviously – in many years, and fairly clearly has no plans to do so in the foreseeable future, what with not being a child anymore and all). After a mix up in which Andy intends to put the toys in the attic but they nearly get thrown out by mistake, the toys decide to get in a box destined to be donated to Sunnyside daycare centre (a nursery), on the entirely reasonable grounds that they’ll get played with more there. Woody goes with them, but tries to change their minds, urging them once again to remain loyal to Andy.

The toys get to the daycare centre, and are informed that here they’re not owned by individual children; they own themselves, will always get played with because new children come in as the older ones grow up and leave, and will have everything they need as long as they stay at the centre. Woody continues to try and persuade the other toys to go back to Andy, but fails and he leaves alone. But the daycare centre, far from being a utopia, is a brutal hierarchical dictatorship ruled with an iron fist by ‘Lotso’ Lots O’Huggin’ Bear; newly arrived toys at the centre have to endure being played with by the youngest children, (who are too rough for Andy’s toys to cope with) and are locked up every night, and any subversives are routinely tortured or reprogrammed to ensure their loyalty. Woody finds out about what has happened to the other toys, rescues them, and manages to trick Andy into donating them to Bonnie, one of the children from Sunnyside.

Got that? You’re bought and sold, and your duty is to stay loyal to your owner, no matter how badly he treats you, how many of your friends and loved ones he gets rid of because they no longer interest him, or how long he neglects you for. If he wants to abandon you in the attic, you should be grateful – he could be throwing you out, after all. Oh, and if anyone tells you that this isn’t the way things have to be, if they tell you that maybe if you had some autonomy then you’d be able to live a decent life not dependent on the whims of those more powerful than you, then that person is a lying wannabe Stalin who’d imprison and torture you without a second thought. The continued goodwill of your private owner is the only guarantor of happiness and security. There is no freedom. There is no alternative. There is no hope.

But hey, it’s just a kids’ film, right?

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Reader Comments

Hugh

“Oh, and if anyone tells you that this isn’t the way things have to be…then that person is a lying wannabe Stalin who’d imprison and torture you without a second thought” Yup, sounds like socialism to me – except that in one of many cases the wannabe Stalin was actually, well…

I take it you’re familiar with Matt Roth’s deconstruction of The Lion King as suburbo-Fascist propaganda on Jump Cut (if not see http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC40folder/LionKing.html). How dare Pinocchio teach children to obey their parents and not run off with strangers, when we know that children grow up best if left to do what they want? How dare The Lion King suggest that people with different social roles can live in happiness and harmony, when we know that everyone has to be the same to be happy?

The point of “it’s just a kid’s film” is that children need different lessons than adults to start out in life, before they can engage with the complexities and uncertainties that are dealt with through more complex media (Marxist blogs, for example). The idea that you should be faithful to those responsible for you (for example your parents or teachers) even when you don’t understand why they make the decisions they do is an important lesson for children to learn. Whether or not a child’s loyalty to authority figures within the home and school does develops into critical respect for authority figures in society as the child grows up is a separate issue. But while the kid’s watching a kid’s film, let’s teach them what they need to know to be kids.

Likewise, the idea that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, is hardly controversial wisdom and an important lesson for children to learn. I should imagine it is the sort of maxim you would use to teach children to be skeptical of, for example, the claims of religion or advertising.

#1 
Written By Hugh on August 1st, 2010 @ 10:57 pm

“How dare The Lion King suggest that people with different social roles can live in happiness and harmony, when we know that everyone has to be the same to be happy”

You have to love babyish opposition to a cartoon version of socialism.

#2 
Written By Reuben on August 2nd, 2010 @ 2:38 am

Communists want everyone to be the same and wear mao suits. But it doesnt work because everyone is different.

#3 
Written By Reuben playing a highschool anti-communist on August 2nd, 2010 @ 2:39 am

Communism works in theory but not in practice.

Also its against HUMAN NATURE.

#4 
Written By Reuben playing a highschool anti-communist on August 2nd, 2010 @ 2:40 am

And if you pay everyone the same no-one will do the difficult jobs.

#5 
Written By Jacob playing a highschool anti-communist on August 2nd, 2010 @ 10:47 am
Hugh

I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me for trying to squeeze the complex unspoken assumptions of the article I mentioned into two half-sentences. I don’t think Roth would call himself a Communist, though.

I just wanted to point out that children’s films can teach good lessons for children and accusing them of being ‘evil’ on the basis of a high-level political analysis might be a bit unfair.

#6 
Written By Hugh on August 2nd, 2010 @ 6:52 pm
Hugh

I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me for trying to squeeze the complex unspoken assumptions of the article I mentioned into two half-sentences. I don’t think Roth would call himself a Communist, though.

I just wanted to point out that children’s films can teach good lessons for children and accusing them of being ‘evil’ on the basis of a high-level political analysis might be a bit unfair.

#7 
Written By Hugh on August 2nd, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

But Barbie found independence and the dare-care centre became just what it should have been once the tyrant was overthrown. The Guardian’s observation that the toys are servants because parents are servants – hence the loyalty – does make more sense to me than your own reading. But it’s tricky with the Toy Story movies isn’t it, because we’re asked to support a love that expresses itself through suddenly becoming inanimate. Tricky but far from Evil (what are you, the Pope?)

#8 
Written By simon kane on August 3rd, 2010 @ 1:53 am
Sean

And I read the whole thing as the safety of family vs. the temptations and perils of the wider world, with the toys’ experience parallelling Andy’s impending home-leaving; not an entirely unproblematic message in itself, but I don’t think the ‘evil’ is really very clear-cut … there’s a whole mix of messages to read into it (unsurprisingly), and what children will read into it themselves, and what effect it would have on their ideas, is another question again.

#9 
Written By Sean on August 3rd, 2010 @ 8:48 pm
Owen

OK, I should probably clear a couple of things up: first, I really didn’t think that carefully about the title. I was originally going to call it something like ‘Why Toy Story 3 would make Joe McCarthy proud’ but went for something snappier and more generic because I hadn’t tied what I was saying explicitly into anti-communism. Second, it’s posted under Satire. Was that not a clue that I wasn’t being entirely serious here? I’ll defend my interpretation as being an interesting way of looking at the film, but no, I don’t seriously believe that ‘stay loyal to your social superiors no matter how badly they treat you’ is really the take-home message that Pixar intended.

I suppose it’s a small mercy I didn’t go with my original plan to analyse the gender politics of Ken’s character as well, all things considered…

#10 
Written By Owen on August 3rd, 2010 @ 9:34 pm
SAM PLAYING A GAP YEAR MARXIST

SAM PLAYING A HIGHSCHOOL ANTI-COMMUNIST
Communists want everyone to be the same and wear mao suits. But it doesnt work because everyone is different.

SAM PLAYING A HIGHSCHOOL ANTI-COMMUNIST
Communism works in theory but not in practice.
Also its against HUMAN NATURE.

SAM PLAYING A HIGHSCHOOL ANTI-COMMUNIST
And if you pay everyone the same no-one will do the difficult jobs.

etc.

#11 
Written By SAM PLAYING A GAP YEAR MARXIST on August 3rd, 2010 @ 10:41 pm
Sean

Owen – Didn’t see the satire thing, sorry! To be fair, there’s a fair amount of this kind of thing around that’s intended deadly seriously.

Although personally I thought the gender politics of the whole Ken-Barbie subplot was pretty interesting, there could be mileage there … ;)

#12 
Written By Sean on August 4th, 2010 @ 4:45 pm
Owen

Fair enough. Part of me just thought it would be interesting to write this post to see the reaction I got, so I suppose I shouldn’t really complain. And a deconstruction of Barbie and Ken’s portrayal could definitely be interesting, but I think perhaps two Toy Story 3 posts in a week might be excessive :P

#13 
Written By Owen on August 4th, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

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