Sunday night I saw Toy Story 3, the year’s No. 1 hit, with more than $415 million already earned at the domestic box-office. When the movie was over, my first thought, apart from how wonderful it was, was that it had a political message. There were other messages about loyalty, about not being deluded, about sticking up for yourself, and even about the proper attitude toward death. But being interested in political messages, I saw one of those as well.
I wondered what other people had seen in the film. As I read the articles and blogs, it seemed that lots of people saw a political message. Those on the Right tended to like the movie’s message, but those on the Left either viewed it unfavorably or denied there was any message at all. And as you might expect, the message was described very differently at the two ends of the spectrum.
Start with the hard Left. Here is Carl Nyberg, writing on July 1 at PrairieStateBlue.com about the plight of the toys, the major characters in the story,now that their friend Andy has grown older and is about to leave for college:
“The dilemma facing the toys is the dilemma facing industrial workers in the era of globalization. . . . Andy represents the capital class. Andy is going to college. The capital class is moving on to new investments that don't need the quantity of American labor they formerly needed.”
This seems goofy to me, but then, so do most of the views of the hard Left.
Continuing, this author declares that the message of Toy Story 3 “is that the working class squeezed by economic globalization needs to stick together, but not turn to socialism. The working class should continue to stay loyal to its political leaders, but press them to address the issues American society faces.”
The idea of Andy as a capitalist and his toys as workers never crossed my mind. Their relationship is not economic. They aren’t workers. The toys can be very energetic, but only when Andy’s not looking.
Here is another leftist, Owen, posting on Aug. 1 at TheThirdEstate.com. In a post called, “Why Toy Story 3 is evil,” Owen sees the toys as slaves of the capitalist bosses:
“You’re bought and sold, and your duty is to stay loyal to your owner, no matter how badly he treats you, how many of your friends and loved ones he gets rid of because they no longer interest him, or how long he neglects you for. If he wants to abandon you in the attic, you should be grateful — he could be throwing you out, after all. Oh, and if anyone tells you that this isn’t the way things have to be, if they tell you that maybe if you had some autonomy then you’d be able to live a decent life not dependent on the whims of those more powerful than you, then that person is a lying wannabe Stalin who’d imprison and torture you without a second thought. The continued goodwill of your private owner is the only guarantor of happiness and security. There is no freedom. There is no alternative. There is no hope.”
I guess Owen would have liked a story in which the toys revolt against the capitalistic boy, escape his oppressive house, and maybe set it on fire besides, and join the daycare center, which is really a worker’s cooperative. That wasn’t Toy Story 3.
I also found a conservative Christian interpretation. On June 20, Drew Zahn argued on WorldNetDaily that the toys represent humans and Andy represents God, and that Andy’s plan to put them in the attic “leads them to doubt Andy’s faithfulness,” which is a “parallel to people in trials doubting God’s faithfulness and love.” And when the toys are donated to a childcare center instead, and the boss toy says, “We don’t need owners; we are our own owners, masters of our own fate,” to Zahn it’s “the Snake” speaking. This promise of freedom, Zahn says, is “the so-called ‘freedom’ of atheism and/or hedonism.”
I guess you could see it that way.
A few conservatives and libertarians loved the movie so much that they went over the top. Novelist Andrew Klavan, writing on Nov. 2 in the Los Angeles Times, was one. He started his commentary with an obvious attempt to hook readers on election day:
“If indications hold true, voters Tuesday will deliver a powerful rebuke to the Obama administration and its plans to transform America. Also, ‘Toy Story 3’ will come out on DVD. These two events are not unrelated.”
That was a stretch, and the progressives lost no time in hooting about it. Wrote John Cole that same day at Balloon Juice: “The reason I am a lowly blogger and not a big time columnist is because I am not creative enough to make this shit up.”
All right; Toy Story 3 is not a political movie as such, and it is silly to tie it to the election. But when the progressives argue that there is no political message in the film, they are wrong.
If you can get past Klavan’s first paragraph, he has a strong argument.
First he recognizes that the leaders among Andy’s toys “are two iconic figures of American culture, a cowboy and an astronaut,” each of them embodying traditional American values. At the child-care center, “they meet the modern American paradigms: Lots-o'-Huggin’ Bear, Big Baby and the shallow, metrosexual Ken doll.” These promise an egalitarian society in which the toys have no owners, but “own themselves.” But the toy society is quickly revealed to be a dictatorship — and feels very much like a leftist dictatorship.
Klavan notes that at one point the shallowest of the characters — the Barbie doll — says, “Authority should be derived from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force!”
John Boot of PajamasMedia.com called this the “single funniest joke” in the movie. I guess it made him laugh. But it isn’t a gag line. It sounds artificial coming from Barbie, and I’ll bet that some of the moviemakers argued against putting it in the script. But clearly somebody wanted it in, and I’ll hazard it was for a political reason.
It is possible that it wasn’t — that the moviemakers picked up these ideas without thinking about them. Maybe — but I don’t think so. Toy Story 3 could easily have been done a much different way. The toys could have arrived at the daycare center and fomented a revolution there, creating a world kinder and more toy-centric than Andy’s.
Toy Story 3 doesn’t end that way. It ends on a theme of loyalty to the private family as a place where toys have owners and can be what they’re made to be. It is an implicitly antisocialist movie — which both sides of the political divide quickly perceived.