National Sections of the L5I:

Toy Story 3 – a religious allegory

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Simon Hardy reviews Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar - 2010) and finds some surprising religious views

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

Toy Story 3 (Pixar/Disney 2010) is the eagerly awaited follow up to the second film, released over a decade ago in 1999. This instalment captures the crucial coming of age trauma of the young Andy, the owner of the film’s heroic Toys (Woody the Cowboy, Buzz Lightyear, etc) as he prepares to go to college. This part of the film is most reminiscent of the line from 1 Corinthians at the start of this review, dealing with the teenage Andy on the cusp of adult hood, preparing for college where presumably drinking and sex will replace playtime with Buzz Lightyear and Mr Potato-head. Underneath the usual Pixar story of tragic loss and fear of abandonment (both Wall-E and Up dealt with similar themes) Toy Story 3 conveys its message through a particularly Christian imagery. Of course for the Toys the human children are their God, they worship them and only desire to be in their presence, to be played with by them. The worst existence is the absence of God – the feeling of the withdrawal of love from the godhead. At the start of the film the toys suffer a crisis of faith, believing that Andy will either put them in the attic where they can live out the rest of their days amongst the household junk that gathers dust in the loft (a sort of Purgatory) or they are sent to the “garbage dump” – the equivalent of Hell. The horror of the garbage dump of course acts as a constant reminder of the moralistic clash of the consumerist society – we loved or used the things we ultimately sent there, but then they just fill up space or pollute the environment as they are burnt to ashes.

The only toy who retains his belief in Andy and refuses to believe that he will abandon them to the Hades of the landfill site is Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks. Woody acts as the chosen apostle, in fact as Andy is packing the toys away, he chooses only Woody to take to college and all the others are left behind. Woody implores the other toys to keep the faith, but they choose instead to go in search of other Gods/Children that will play with them. At this point they enter into a sinful arrangement, and despite Woody’s protests, they choose to worship false gods – i.e. not Andy.

After a misunderstanding, the toys are sent to Sunnyside – a children’s daycare home. Once there, they are taken in by Lots-O-Huggin, a big strawberry smelling teddy bear who is the leader of the Sunnyside toys and initiates them into the new order of things. Promising that they will be played with all the rest of their lives by children who care for them, they are placed in the Caterpillar room. It is here that the doubting apostles are subjected to terrifying and sustained attack by wild toddlers – a fitting punishment for those believers who doubted the love of Andy! When Buzz Lightyear tries to protest that they are not “age appropriate” for these children, he discovers the truth. In fact Lots-O-Huggin is the literal equivalent of a ‘fallen angel’, who has chosen to create a nightmarish order of discipline and hierarchy. The new toys must serve out their time amongst the toddlers before they can graduate to the more sedate room where older children play with them more gently. The toddlers are the angry gods of Greek mythology, capricious, cruel, spiteful, humiliating and destroying their subjects at whim. Lots-O-Huggin is the head of a pantheistic orgy of violence played out against the Christians who have strayed from the path. It is explained that Lots-O-Huggin has turned evil precisely because he felt his owner, a child called Daisy, had abandoned him, and after that he had stopped believing in the Children-as-Gods.

Woddy alone must rescue them, which of course he does, but at the last minute they end up in a confrontation with Lots-O-Huggin, seeing them wind up at the nightmarish landfill site. Here becomes epic, as the scale of the tragedy that is about to befall them becomes more real. As far away from Andy the true god as they could be, the toys are cast onto a conveyor belt where they are threatened with being crushed and incinerated. At this point the film reaches utterly biblical proportions – not only is the incinerator (rendered in glorious 3D) shown in an almost Dantesque level, something straight from Inferno in the Divine Comedy, the toys have a moment of utter faith – the point at which they realise that after everything they have been through they cannot escape this time – it is impossible to get out. They all look at each other and, accepting their fate, simply hold hands as they descend towards their fiery doom. At this point, and only because they have accepted their fate like good Christians, a literal Deus ex Machina comes from the skies (in this case a giant claw) and lifts them from the rubbish up towards the light.

Displaying typical Christian levels of forgiveness, when the Slinky dog says they should go after Lots-O-Huggin for his betrayal of them earlier in the film, Woody implores them to leave him – “he is not worth it” he argues. But the apostles, realising that Andy does truly love them, do not need to take action – Lots-O-Huggin ends up trapped in the landfill site, stuck to the front of a garbage truck, presumably for eternity, a most fitting end for such a non-believer.

Toy Story 3 is an excellent film, one that perfectly entertains the younger audience as well as their parents. Pixar have proven that they are being comparison at making these types of movies – but one must ask if their recent takeover by Disney is not having a more sinister effect on their story-telling. Disney after all have a notable track record of making cartoons with subtle right wing and reactionary themes in them. (see the excellent review of Disney films here)