By Mike O’BrienAt first glance, Toy Story is a heart-warming tale of camaraderie, breathing the same life into its toys as our imaginations did in the days of yore. But it is our collective failure as a society to recognise Toy Story for what it truly is: an indictment of our corrupt, celebrity-worshipping media environment whose sympathy for abusers perjures justice.
Early in Toy Story, we discover that whenever a human enters the room, the toys freeze and ‘play dead’ to keep their sentience a secret. Shortly after, they limber up, emerging from their performance to return to their vivid selves. But for Woody, this is where the performance begins. His gaunt, inanimate gaze is the truest reflection of the morally absent psychopath underneath that drives his actions throughout the film.
When the charismatic Buzz Lightyear arrives, he proves instantly popular among the toy society. Within minutes, Woody is consumed by narcissistic rage to commit premeditated vehicular manslaughter. When this evolves into a near-fatal defenestration, Woody is apprehended by fifteen US military soldiers and faces a summary execution before being rescued by Andy, his slave master.
When Woody discovers that Buzz is alive, his immediate instinct is not to reconcile or apologise, but a calculated and exasperated performance of relief, which he deftly manoeuvres into the suggestion that Buzz should exonerate him. Woody expresses no remorse nor concern for his attempted murder; rather, he instinctively defends his public image, the clear behaviour of a psychotic narcissist. Confessedly, Buzz escalates matters into a physical conflict, but as Buzz is an officer of intergalactic law, this should be considered a judicial arrest. When Woody’s ruse fails, his killer instinct emerges once again when, despite a break in the conflict, he not only attempts to beat Buzz to death, but gaslights him into believing that he is not a real officer of the law. This claim is debunked in Toy Story 2, where Buzz is the subject of despotic tyranny under expansionist dictator Emperor Zurg.
When the two are forced to cooperate to escape an unfamiliar household, Woody claims his next victim. By revealing his sentience in a sinister and threatening manner, he traumatises Sid, a creative young child. Sid creates amalgams of toys, reasonably assuming they are inanimate and cannot experience pain. Woody’s decision to remorselessly torture a young boy instead of merely explaining the situation ruins his life. Sid comes to associate his engineering passion with crippling guilt, abandoning STEM education forever and pursuing a degree in journalism; this is confirmed in Toy Story 3, where he becomes an unskilled labourer in waste management.
Woody returns and faces no retribution from his community, whose collective amnesia can only be explained by the 24-hour news cycle’s preoccupation with celebrities and events over narratives. The film ends with his subservient girlfriend showering him with kisses, as he senselessly scolds Buzz one last time:
‘Oh Buzz; what could Andy possibly get that is worse than you.’