On Nov. 22, 2020, Pixar’s Toy Story turns 25.
It should be an anniversary of joy and pride, an opportunity for the world to look back on a quarter of a century with one of the most influential animation studios in cinematic history. But for too many toys and the humans who love them, the pop culture milestone is a painful reminder of the brutal suffering endured under Sheriff Woody and Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear.
Yes, we are reporting on the horrific Toy Story pet toy massacres — a thing that’s totally real, that I can totally prove (y’know in a fan theory sort of way), that a bunch of strangers on Reddit agree with me is a horrifying plot hole, and that sort of makes Andy’s/Bonnie’s toys look like raging megalomaniacs.
So, uh…wait, what are the Toy Story pet toy massacres?
In the Toy Story universe, most toys are sentient, right? Right. So theoretically, being a cat or dog toy would mean existing as a sentient being that can feel pain, or at the very least discomfort, and is subject to constant torment.
That leaves two options for toys designed and purchased for rough use by animals: (1) Be durable enough to withstand the daily trauma of being viciously mauled, scratched, and ripped apart; or (2) live for only a brief time before having your carcasses discarded under the living room couch.
Yikes, OK. But not all pet toys would be sentient. And wouldn’t the pet toys enjoy playing with their animal “owners?” That’s what they’re for.
Two great points. First off: Yes, not all pet toys would be sentient.
As first made clear by the Magic 8-Ball in the original Toy Story, plenty of objects found in the Toy Story universe have characteristics of play but do not possess self-awareness.
I find it difficult to believe that any toy being beheaded would claim they’re “enjoying” themselves.
Conversely, the garden gnome referenced in that same film is explicitly stated to have the ability to communicate despite being a decorative object. Forky of Toy Story 4 is similarly granted consciousness when Bonnie gives him (an old spork with some crafting supplies glued to it) a face, solidifying the general principle that if something in Toy Story looks alive, then it is.
By that logic, chew toys, tennis balls, tug ropes, scratching posts, and many of the hardier pet toys out there would be spared sentience. But stuffed animals or toys with “personality” of any kind (catnip mice, squeakers, etc.) face a brutal existence.
Gifted to predators as stand-ins for their preferred victims found in the wild, pet toys would hypothetically spend most days experiencing intense bursts of agonizing pain, recovering while their attackers slept, and then repeating the process.
Onto that second point: I find it difficult to believe that any toy being beheaded would claim they’re “enjoying” themselves. But even if we do acknowledge just how much the toys of Toy Story like being played with, we can’t overlook that playtime can be dangerous for them.
In Sunnyside Daycare’s dreaded Caterpillar Room of Toy Story 3, toddlers were shown graphically harming Andy’s toys in an extended sequence almost too shocking to behold. If we use my pit bull’s treatment of her playthings as a point of reference, then Toy Story‘s pet toys are regularly slaughtered in truly heinous and disturbing ways. Exhibit A:
But Toy Story toys can’t actually die, right?
Oh, no. They most assuredly can. It’s easy to forget the plot to the original Toy Story hinged on Mr. Potato Head accusing Woody of murder (his word choice, not mine), or that a huge part of Toy Story 3 focused on trafficking Andy’s toys to be used as sacrifices for Sunnyside’s toddlers.
Oh, and yeah, Sid was a straight-up serial killer. Mortality is absolutely a thing in Toy Story.
I mean, that sucks for pet toys. But how is that Woody and Buzz’s fault?
For starters, I don’t think we should have to beg the poster toys for Pixar friendship to give a shit about mass murder. They’ve cashed in on the whole Randy Newman “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” bit long enough; it’s time to actually contribute.
But beyond that, the sheer scope of this crisis is so monstrous it’s almost impossible to imagine any decent being — toy or human — choosing to ignore it. In the San Francisco area alone (where most Pixar movies, including Toy Story, are believed to be set), there are hundreds of thousands of domesticated animals. Give each of those pets just one pet toy and you’re looking at a statically significant number of murders right in Andy’s (and consequently, Woody and Buzz’s) backyard.
As shown in the opening scene of Toy Story 4, Andy’s toys regularly rescue their own. So if they’re genuinely surrounded by the carnage of pet toys everywhere…why aren’t they doing anything?
Buster was such a good dog though! He even gave the toys rides. Maybe Woody and Buzz just don’t know pets can be bad?
Was there a box of screaming dog toys downstairs Buzz, Woody, and the gang just…ignored?
No, they know. They have to know.
We have video evidence of Woody and Buzz confronting Sid’s dog Scud in the original Toy Story, and fleeing from him as an obvious threat to toy safety. We don’t ever actually see Scud kill a toy, but the implication is strong.
And set against the backdrop of Sid’s “creations” struggling to move and being unable to speak (shudder), the danger pets pose to toys is apparent. They can and have messed toys up, likely at a human’s request.
Sure, Buster rocks. Andy’s mom clearly trained him to leave Andy’s toys alone and Buster was a very good boy about that. But there’s a troubling next question to be asked there: What was Buster playing with instead of Andy’s toys? Was there a box of screaming toys downstairs that Buzz, Woody, and the gang just…ignored? Did they try to help them escape and fail? Or did they view themselves as superior and more worthy of life? What…happened there?
Well, maybe the pet toys are somehow kind of like the toys’ pets and that’s somehow less…bad? Like it’s just the toys’ pets playing with the humans’ pets? And their deaths are hierarchically not as serious because they’re “animal” toys?
OK, so you’re reaching, but we can do this if we must. If we’re applying species loyalty to Toy Story characters, then that would put talking toys like Buzz, Woody, Jessie, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, and Hamm in one group and non-talking “animal” toys like Billy, Goat, and Gruff in another.
That sort of make sense, if not in an ethical way then at least in a Lion King circle of life kind of way. But if you apply that logic to the entire cast of Toy Story, you’ll soon find yourself in the classic Goofy vs. Pluto conundrum with the likes of Slinky and Bullseye.
If you genuinely believe Slinky’s death and Bullseye’s death would not be treated equally — that notably more grief would be merited for Slinky than for Bullseye simply because Bullseye cannot talk — you are correct that the pet toy deaths aren’t “as big” of a deal. You’re a jerk, but a correct jerk.
So what exactly do you want Andy’s toys to do about the pet toy murders then, angry internet lady?
How could they possibly intercede?
There! Are! So! Many! Options! Based on Barbie’s whole “consent of the governed” spiel in Toy Story 3, it’s clear Andy’s toys have some grasp of the democratic process and what it means to organize around societal threats. They could deploy their military forces in partnership with other little green army dudes in the Bay Area and enact a mass rescue operation of pet toys everywhere.
But they’d have to keep doing that. Forever. The humans would just get new dog and cat toys.
And that is precisely why Woody and Buzz, as fair and just leaders intent on enacting the will of the people, need to meet with human representatives to negotiate a peace treaty on behalf of pet toys. Explain that pet toys — and regular toys, for that matter — are feeling beings that must be protected from harm and given rights.
Lol, OK. We know toys can’t reveal themselves to humans.
Why not? They did it in the original Toy Story to save Buzz.
Seriously. Watch the movie again. Woody explicitly suggests they break “the rules” (without ever defining them, mind you) to get Buzz away from Sid. Woody actually comes to life in front of the scary preteen boy’s eyes to save Buzz. Presumably, Sid never told anyone, or if he did, nothing ever bad happened because of it. So what’s the big deal?
It is never explained why Woody could not do this again to advocate for the safety of pet toys everywhere, or solve any number of his friends’ other problems. This has always been an option. Woody could help toys and humans live in harmony, but he chooses not to. Humans can see him, but he will not move when they’re around — even if that means having the stuffing of thousands of toys on his hands.
But why would he do that?
Woody and Buzz are tyrannical dictators. Or false prophets starting a cult made up of the blaspheming aliens from Pizza Planet. One of the two. Jury’s still out.
Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, and Toy Story 4 are now streaming on Disney+.