Story Pile: Toy Story

Toy Story is a 1995 animated feature film by Pixar Studios, distributed by Disney, that serves as one of those iconic examples of early 3d Animation that ‘holds up’ over time by people who haven’t gone back and looked at any of the humans in it. With the voice talents of Tom Hanks and Tim Toolman, it follows the narrative of a pull-string cowboy doll competing with a kung-fu action grip spaceman toy for the attention of their gigantically towering owner, whom they must never allow to know that they live, breath, and know his name.

For kids!

Look, classic yada yada, groundbreaking yada yada, wholesome yada yada. I actually got to see this one while inside a controlled christian media bubble, and if tomorrow I found out all copies of it had been deleted I would react like that ‘oh no, anyway,’ meme. It is not a movie for which I have an enormous amount of affection. I don’t want to talk to you about the narrative, though, not of Wilson’s Best Friend negotiating with the Last Man Standing about which of them will be more validated by an actual literal child and the ontological questions of why aren’t the parts of Mr Potato Head independently alive?

I want to talk to you about the humans of Toy Story. Specifically, about Andy, and Sid, and the weird world they live in, and the weird world they’ve created.

Andy’s a weird kid.

Andy’s a weird kid, in this specific case, because of the toys he loves.

Andy’s collection of toys features a lot of things that were, for want of better phrasing, are old. Plastic army men, Mr Potato Head, metal slinky dogs. In 1995, none of that stuff looked like the heavily branded, overmerchandised toys I was used to. Kid didn’t own any legos? No rainbow vomit coloured plastic slinky?

Sure, my collection had some old toys in it. That was because I was poor, and we got a lot of toys from the Salvation Army story or second hand from the throwouts in the church charity bins.

Thing is, as toys, Woody and Buzz aren’t really like the toys I was interested in during the 1990s. Cowboys weren’t cool. Cowboys were old. Cowboys were shown on TV in largely black and white. Cowboys were always about being sour and mad and long periods of nothing happening and nobody did a single kick flip and there weren’t any ninjas. Buzz Lightyear looked extremely embarrassing, and not like the kids’ toys of the time. He didn’t transform, he was big and chunky and not an action figure. Lords knows he wasn’t going to stand up to either GI Joe or Action Man. The scale was all fucked up, he clearly cost a lot, and we never saw signs of playsets or vehicles in the movie.

Though I say that, and you know what he did look a lot like, size wise? GI Joe. Not my GI Joe, from the 1990s, which were the size of my thumbs and cost five dollars so you could army-build. Original GI Joe, from the 1960s, which was a much taller toy, literally a foot tall. You know, like how tall Buzz Lightyear is.

My point is: Buzz Lightyear is not a 90s toy. He was a toy that looked like a boomer’s toys. Andy, a child created to fit in 1995, in a large expensive home with lots of toys, has lots of old toys. Andy has toys that speak to growing up in the sixties, with one toy that’s meant to be a toy of the 90s that’s still kinda not.

But now those toys are iconic kids’ toys, now, because Toy Story became a classic, and people who saw it as kids had kids and shared it with their kids. That is, the parents saw Toy Story and went ‘oh that’s fine for my kids,’ then those kids passed on Toy Story to their kids, and so on and now thanks to it being interdimensional meme cryptid’s extended tentacles into our reality, Woody and Buzz are now iconic kid’s toys that rely on being this sort of post-packaged boomer nostalgia.

That’s the wildest thing. The combination of Andy’s wealth and diversity of toys (why do you have a ceramic Bo Peep statue?)  creates this weird impression of Andy being somehow a child with vintage toys that represent taste thirty years older than him. If Andy was poor and isolated it’d make a ton of sense for him to have all these old toys and none of the newest, coolest toys, like Sid has.

I’ve written about Sid in the past, in part because I think he’s the only character in the entire universe I have any real fondness for.

Well okay, maybe Rex.

Anyway, Sid’s poor? Like, his house, next door to Andy’s, is grungy and grimy and there’s a question about how Andy’s house is so nice and clean and fancy and Sid’s is basically a hell dungeon, but in hindsight it’s kind of hard to look at it and not see it as classic Disney Fisher King stuff. You know, the way that when Scar ruled Pride Rock, there was a drought, and the second Scar was replaced by Simba, there was rain. In this case, Sid, being bad, has a house that’s full of Badness, and Andy, being a good kid, has a good house.

But Sid is signalled as being poor. Everything in the house is grungy and secondhand, and he’s constantly playing with toys that have been discarded or lost, and he modifies them. Sid is curious and creative and yes, destructive, and he’s destructive of things that, as far as he knows until the movie decides to massively traumatise him, are just toys.

Like, think about that. Sid damages and messes with toys but he uses that to make other toys, to make things he plays with. His play is seem as scary and traumatising, because… what? Because he violates the ‘proper’ image of the toy. The toy that is not properly preserved, the toy that is torn in pieces and put together again is seen as somehow violated because it is no longer’ right.’ The implication there unstated is that toys are ‘right’ when they are sold to you, and when you change them from that product, they are ‘wrong.’

Sid’s sin is making his own toys, and he is punished by the avatar of a multinational company that will sell you toys that are right.

There’s this fun story beat, where in Toy Story 3, you find that Sid is now a garbage collector. You can see him wearing the same shirt, and dancing happily as he collects trash. In the garbage dump in that movie, you’ll find there are also no toys, which creates the strange question of how things get that way. A story that explains this, a story I like, is that Sid, with the skills he has with toys, took the job as a garbage collector to rescue these tiny sentient creatures from humanity discarding them and is running some sort of toy game preserve in his home. After all, he is, as far as we know, the only human aware that toys are alive.

And he’s the asshole, not the seeming adults who traumatise a kid for playing with toys. Sid, after all, doesn’t play nice.