Review 5: The Subtleties of Toy Story

 In Articles, Movie Analyses

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Toy Story has long been heralded as the turning point that jump-started the dying animation industry, while also proving to studio executives everywhere (along with the public at large) that an animated story could be just as electrifying, heartwarming, and gripping as a run of the mill live-action movie. Released in 1995, it forever changed the realities of not just what was possible with animation, but also what was expected. While most of this had to do with the revolutionary new medium of 3D CGI graphics, there are many subtle things about the story that further enhances the movie’s reputation.

Although it seems pointless to give an explanation of the movie, there is an ever so small fraction of the movie watchers out there who have not seen it, so one will still be given. Toy Story centers around a cowboy doll named Woody trying to keep his control over all the other toys under his thumb in their owner’s (Andy) room when a new toy, Buzz Lightyear, comes into town and becomes Andy’s new favorite. Woody is afraid of being replaced by Buzz as Andy’s favorite, and this fear and insecurity is what sets up the conflict for the rest of the movie.

Another big part of the story is Andy’s next door neighbor, Sid. Sid is a very troubled child who passes his time by bullying his sister and blowing up toys. Sid is not only meant to serve as an antagonist, but also as the opposite of Andy. Andy is a sweet, loving kid, while Sid is an abrasive bully. Andy loves playing with toys, while Sid loves destroying them. Even their houses are starkly different; Andy’s is bright and inviting, while Sid’s is dark and foreboding. These differences are crucial to showing audiences that Sid is Andy if Andy had mad different choices. However, even with all of those differences, there are a few subtle, even darker similarities between the two.

Andy and Sid: One and the Same?

One of the biggest similarities between Andy and Sid is the composition of their families. Both Andy and Sid have a mom, a younger sister, a dog, and an absent father. Andy’s father is completely out of the picture, and there’s a clue from the family’s move point to his father’s absence being a recent thing. When Andy gets Buzz for his birthday, his mom goes to great lengths to redecorate Andy’s room despite the fact that they are about to move. This redecorating could be an attempt by Andy’s mom to replace some of the things that could remind Andy of his dad with new things, and have the added benefit of changing Andy’s last memory of his old room. This could also lend itself to Woody’s replacement insecurity, which is a pivotal plot device.

Now, with Sid’s dad there’s a lot more to unpack. He seems to be a father that still lives at home, but we know little about him as he’s only in one scene. This scene does give us a lot though, and it provides greater context for Sid and his behavior. The scene in question features Sid’s dog chasing Buzz into a room in Sid’s house. Buzz runs from Sid’s dog, Spud, into a room down the hall, at which point the dog stops chasing him. Buzz is then drawn towards a TV playing an ad for the Buzz Lightyear line of action figures. Behind Buzz is a figure dressed in men’s clothes sitting, and presumably sleeping, in a chair with cans and other trash all around him. This scene is crucial to Buzz’s character development, as this is when he finds out he’s just a toy. There is more here than meets the eye however, and it all comes from what Sid’s dog does. Instead of chasing Buzz, he changes his entire demeanor once Sid’s dad enters the picture. He sees Sid’s dad and decides it’s not worth risking waking him up, possibly out of fear of what Sid’s dad might do to him. This combined with Sid’s treatment of his sister and his ability and desire to order explosives and use them with or without parental consent (either is troubling), this at least points to an absent father, but also possibly abusive. This could understandably lead to some feelings of abandonment and/or trauma, which could explain, but not excuse, Sid’s actions.

But then the movie takes an even darker turn. Not only do the creators traumatize this poor kid, but they then traumatize him even further by having his toys come to life and scare him so badly that he can never look at a toy the same way ever again. Besides this initial jarring experience, this could lead to even more dark possibilities like Sid feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt for mercilessly blowing up “living things”, his ever-present fear of toys coming to life, and the possible constant fear of being rejected by everyone around him for this fear and being declared insane if he speaks about his experience.

An Unlikely Villain

Once we take all these things into context, Sid starts to look less and less like a conniving toy serial killer and more like a misunderstood child who just hasn’t been taken care of like he should’ve been. He doesn’t even seem like the main antagonist, since he’s not the reason why there is a conflict. But if he’s not the main antagonist, then who is? Is it Mr. Potato Head? He is a source of conflict, but that doesn’t really take shape until the end of the third act. I would argue, almost certainly controversially, that Woody is the main antagonist of Toy Story. 

Woody is an egotistical control freak who can’t handle not being the center of attention at all times. He has zero excuses for those traits, especially when you consider that he’s had it better than all the other toys in Andy’s room. He’s Andy’s favorite, always the hero in every narrative that Andy comes up with. All the other toys seem to be constantly fearful about being replaced, except for Woody. He’s not worried until he realizes that it’s happening, at least in his eyes. So after his very comfortable and entitled existence, he decides to lash out against everyone, getting angry and being even more rude than he already was. This all culminates with him trying to push Buzz behind a dresser so that Andy will take him to a restaurant. After this goes horribly wrong and Buzz is sent tumbling out an open window, Woody lies about what happened, and when he sees that Buzz is okay he’s only relieved because that means the other toys won’t be mad at him. He is still only thinking about himself until the last possible minute, and even then they are almost left behind because Mr. Potato Head is upset with legitimately wrong and awful things Woody did. 

While Woody is eventually redeemed, he is the sole reason why everything wrong happens in the movie. Even the toy revolution he leads that saves Buzz ends up traumatizing a child, something he then immediately celebrates.  This makes him, in my mind at least, the main antagonist. Sid is a traumatized kid, Mr. Potato Head is completely justified, and Woody is a self centered jerk that got what was coming to him. And while the creators of the movie did a great job with many aspects of this film, traumatizing children, blowing up toys now deemed to be living things, and making your hero be selfish and a horrible person are interesting lessons to teach young viewers.

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