In sum, this is a film produced by the decadent society that has so much “stuff” it makes movies about how their surplus things feel when they’re gotten rid of.
Only an American society could produce this film. The kind of mind that went into making this movie is the same that makes a whole lifestyle out of accumulating excessive stuff. We (since most of us fit somewhere on this spectrum of affluence and hyperconsumerism) follow our desire anywhere it leads, shops the malls and catalogs for things we didn’t know we needed, rent storage facilities to house the stuff that doesn’t fit in our houses, and fill the trashcans with cascades of “stuff” relabeled as “junk” after we lose interest in it. In the movie, there isn’t one toy, there aren’t several cherished toys, there are chestfuls of half-forgotten toys. There is an attic for putting things that you have no use for but still want to preserve (to satisfy that unconscious desire to have everything).
The ridiculous plot of this film begins by asking what the “rejected” stuff must “feel” like now that it is legible more as an excess than an essential thing. In the film, the computer is the new essential thing, and the chest of toys is the unwanted excess. The toys fret to no end about the existential anguish of having lost the desire of their owner. But do we really want to invest emotionally in the toys’ dilemma over whether or not to feel bad that they’re leaving their former owner now that he has no use for them anymore?
I find it far more interesting to read the story as an allegory for a capitalist-based political system that functions by use people up and then throwing them out. How should they (the castaways, the rejected, the wretched remainder in a society that uses them and uses them up), how should they feel about this? We can read Andy as analagous to a boss or CEO or an figure for private ownership of property. The toys’ dilemma becomes more interesting: should they, these used and abused, feel “loyal” to a “master/owner” who only appreciates them as expendable objects of his own interest? Frederick Douglass, the famous former slave become freeman and black leader, writes in his memoirs about the fierce loyalty slaves felt toward they’re masters when they came into contact with other slaves. They would get into fights themselves over arguments about whose master was “better.”
The comparison of political systems becomes overt as the story unfolds. The escaped toys represent a challenge to private property relations. They have “liberated” themselves from their owner and, at the children’s daycare center, they have made themselves available to the public good.
The papa bear figure is the enlightened leader of the socialist/anarchist community at the daycare center. He waxes eloquent about how in this happy place, toys are never faced with the sad prospect of running our of “owners,” or kids to play with them. Andy’s clan of escaped toys have this as their major complaint. They are distressed at becoming objects without a sufficiently appreciative owner. “Wake up Woody, Andy doesn’t want us!” they cry in unison. The worst thing imaginable according to this narrative is an abundance of accumulated objects that serve no purpose when their owner puts them to no use. This is a critique of capitalist accumulation in general. What good are those private islands owned by Bill Gates and the rest, or those “eight or nine – I can’t recall” houses owned by John McCain, if they only get used once in a blue moon while people all around suffer from lack of material needs? The papa bear explains the beauty of socializing property to make it accessible not just to one owner, but to anyone who would like to use it. In the daycare, as one generation of children grows too old for toys, new generations are their to come. This is a far cry from Andy, who was content to lock the toys away in his chest or attic when he was tired of them. Toys are meant to be played with, so they were very sad to get locked away when there are so many other children in the world. Andy’s ex-toys are delighted at this new situation. A toy’s utopia. Andy has “branded” them on the sole of their shoes, as Woody points out (“but you already have an owner”), but now they will erase that brand and become available to the host of children needing toys to play with.
But this turns out to be no toy heaven after all – they daycare is in fact a dystopian nightmare. The kindly papa bear turns out to the ringleader of a band of thugs who run the place like a police state (USSR, anyone?). The plot runs like a (very) bad attempt to allegorize Stalinism. I’m not sure how it ends (I had to leave early to catch a train). For the portion that I saw, 2/3 thru, the moral seems to be that no matter how bad things seem, one should stick to the good-old private ownership system. Even if it might appear flawed, it’s better than the alternatives.
My final recommendation: not worth watching.
1. The figures of the police state, from the insane monkey who keep watch, to the tortured face of the disfigured baby doll, offer some truly nightmarish visions. If I were young, I would be pretty startled by those images.
2. The toy story ensemble is so cliche by now that their lines come off as tired and overused. Their characters are less shiny and we feel like we are watching a familiar cartoon show rather than a new movie.