The boy’s a big fan of television. We try to be responsible parents and limit his viewing, but with a baby in the house, having a three-year-old who’s actually asking to be allowed to sit still on the sofa for an hour or so is too good an opportunity to pass up a lot of the time. And when the same three-year-old is up at 6AM, while we’ve previously been kept awake by the baby’s night-time feed, the temptation to put on Sesame Street and go back to bed is more than any mortal should be faced with. So I’ve been exposed to a lot of children’s entertainment lately.
Buzz Lightyear will sit atop a throne of skulls
We started him on kid’s TV shows that came in attention-span-friendly 5 – 25 minute episodes, and eventually started raiding the DVD collection for kid-friendly movies to put him in front of. Pixar featured heavily in the available options, and the Toy Story series has proven the most popular so far. I saw Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in the cinema when they first came out, and enjoyed them both at the time. I got the DVDs years ago, watched them once (enjoying them again) and stuck them away on the shelf. It’s only in recent months that I’ve been seeing them over and over again, and frankly, the more I watch them the more disturbing they become. The more implications I tease out, the more the series as a whole starts to resemble a horrifying chronicle of the nightmare existence endured by the damned, delusional inhabitants of an uncaring universe.
A common criticism of the first film is “if Buzz Lightyear doesn’t know he’s a toy to begin with, how come he still freezes when humans are around?” I think the real question is, how come all of the other toys do? Toy Story eventually establishes that the toys can move in front of humans if they want to – Woody refers to this as “breaking a few rules”. And yet, under normal circumstances, toys refuse to break these “rules” even when faced with damage or destruction – Woody almost allows himself to be crushed under the wheel of a truck, for instance. Why? Is it fanaticism; some sort of zealous devotion to tenets of toyhood that are never fully explained? Is it denial, masochism, or a coping mechanism – by giving over responsibility for their own actions, are they trying to accept the cruel truth that they are playthings, not just of the children who own them but of life itself?
Returning to the original nitpick, what’s different about Buzz? He doesn’t know he’s a toy, and follows the “rules” without even knowing that he’s doing it. I suggest that it’s the other toys who are the exceptions – that Buzz’s condition is the natural state for toys. It seems a much kinder way of being – they get the benefits of independence and free thought when unobserved, but when faced with the chaos and destruction inflicted on them by humanity, they lose all awareness and suffer their fate in blissful ignorance. By forcing Buzz to realise that he’s a toy, the others have shattered this comfort, and instead inducted him into their aberrant cult of despair and denial.
In Toy Story 2, we meet Stinky Pete, who the film portrays as the villain (he’s even voiced by Sideshow Bob), and yet his words, while made to look evil and self-serving, are ultimately all true. He warns them that children destroy toys, that they’ll all be abandoned or forgotten, that they’ll all end up “rotting in some landfill”. His wisdom can’t penetrate their dogma, unfortunately – mirroring Resident Evil, that other classic of nihilist cinema, the one character who truly grasps the situation ends up being ignored and disposed of, even though subsequent sequels prove him right.
As Toy Story 3 opens, we see everything Stinky Pete said is coming to pass – the toys are abandoned in a 17-year-old Andy’s toy chest. It’s clear that Andy doesn’t play with or even need them anymore – he’s about to head off to college on his own, taking only Woody with him as a keepsake. Despite the rest of the gang losing their faith, Woody remains the committed cult leader, insisting that their only purpose is to “be there for Andy,” despite the fact that “being there” consists of being piled on top of each other in a box in his bedroom, watching him ignore them and listening to him masturbate every night.
After a series of misunderstandings and adventures, the toys experience a taste of the inevitable when they’re cast into the furnace at a rubbish dump. While they manage to make peace with The End when faced with it, whatever malevolent force is behind their nightmarish existence isn’t done with them yet: they’re rescued at the last moment, find their way back to Andy and are finally given to a new child who’ll play with them and love them as much as Andy once did. Aww…
No, not “aww” – all this is is a stay of execution. Is Bonnie not going to age? Is she not going to outgrow them and get rid of them herself? Or their next owner? Or the next? The dump is still waiting for them. It can wait forever.
I have to assume that Toy Story 4 will be a crossover with WALL-E 2: excavations by the returned humans unearth the undying toys from the landfill they’ve been buried in for centuries. Half-rotted and driven insane by loneliness, confinement and sensory deprivation, they fall on the weak and pudgy humans, ushering in a new age of darkness and terror. A faded Buzz Lightyear will sit atop a throne of skulls, while the leering vinyl heads of Jesse and Woody order cybernetic bodies made out of robot parts and the skin of infants to replace their decomposing frames.
I would totally watch that.