Monday, August 1, 2011

Toy Story 3

Many reviewers have described Toy Story 3 and being a strong example of an anti-socialist, or anti-communist, or anti-anything-un-American propagandistic allegory. Many reviewers have done so sarcastically, though. I proceed without sarcasm, without jest, with total seriousness. Toy Story 3 is clearly all those things.

Barbie explains the message quite clearly: "Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force." Woody, Buzz and the rest of our heroic crusaders are the flag-bearers of democracy, trying desperately to escape the throws of the oppressive, communistic dictator Lotso.

To explain the full depth and extent of the allegory I must take you through each representation one by one:

As I stated, our gang of heroes represent democracy, specifically American democracy, with their house with the white picket fence and the apple pie cooling in the window sill. The attic, to which the toys are slated to be moved once Andy (much more on him later) moves away, represents peaceful retirement, a heavenly condo in sunny Florida, the much preferred resolution to the trash or donation, a form of exile or abandonment from Andy.

Sunnyside Daycare represents a communist nation, a modern China, with Lotso as its outwardly loveable monarch. It appears pleasant at first, with all the toys living together in harmony. They don't have owners, but are very happy nonetheless. But once the toys are put in the Caterpillar room, and see the horror of their new environment, they wish for the safety and security of Andy and the house, and Lotso seems less like a Princess Diana, the "princess of the people," and something a little closer to a Mao or Stalin. The crates used to imprison our heroes, the Box, and the ever-vigilant, 1984-esque monkey who sees everything complete the metaphor. We're not at a daycare, we're in North Korea.

Along with the communism-versus-democracy symbolism necessarily comes the religious symbolism, which is perhaps the most pervasive metaphor in the film. Andy is God. It's indisputable. And any other owner is the God to his or her toys. Any toy without an owner--any toy at Sunnyside--is the godless communist that Joseph McCarthy taught us to fear and loathe over 60 years ago. As Woody puts it, "Daycare is a sad, lonely place for washed-up old toys who have no owners." Translated away from the metaphor, Woody is saying that "Communism is sad, lonely system for washed-up old people who have no God."

The toys, excluding Woody, only like the idea of daycare because they think they've thrown away and abandoned by Andy (God). Even Lotso was once a happy, carefree, upstanding democrat and believer. But, being abandoned and replace by his owner (God) was too much for him to bear, and so he comes to Sunnyside, takes it over, and rules it with an iron fist. Just watch the film again, specifically the scene above the dumpster, and replace and the words "kid," "owner," and any names of a kid, with "God" and see for yourself how nicely the metaphor fits.

If Andy and other tow owners are God, then their total abandonment, the dump, must represent Hell, a metaphor not too hard to decipher given the demonic, fiery glow of the garbage truck and incinerator. Even the hardened "atheist" Lotso appears to have a change of heart in the face of the hellfire, but his bitterness from the abandonment of his owner is still too much for him to bear, and allows the Christian toys to burn, asking "Where's your Kid (God) now?" At the last moment, of course, before our heroes are thrust through the gates of Hell, with our heroes holding hands for a would-be prayer, the deus ex machina of The Claw--for all intents and purposes the Hand of God--comes to rescue them.

Hints are all around the film, both subtle--"Andy" written on the shoes of all his toys like a Creator signing his work--and obvious--Woody landing in the college box next to Andy's New International Version bible. But, now that the curtain has been pulled back and the metaphor revealed, the question must now be asked what to make of it.

In any other film, specifically a live-action film made for an older audience, this kind of metaphor would have really bothered me. It would have been pandering to this country's patriotic audience, preaching to the choir of conservative Christian America, something not too hard or daring to do. But the fact that this occurs in a children's film is utterly intriguing. Most if not all of the symbolism will be missed by the film's target audience, and their parents will brush it aside, saying that it's just a kid's movie, as if a kid's movie is a place where propaganda cannot exist. So I'm left with an ambivalence; I still shake my fist at Pixar and the film's creators for taking the easy, pandering way out, but I credit them for taking advantage of a social loophole and putting their propaganda in a kid's movie, the one place no one would think to look. How dare you, Pixar! But Kudos.

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