I’m sitting on the second row of my Senior year English class. My teacher, Mrs. Kallas (which was appropriately homophonic), uses her stringent voice to tell us the story of populism within the universe of The Wizard of Oz. The symbols of the political fight, the shoes, the farming scarecrow, the working tin man, something about William Jennings Bryan.
It’s a great story, and all the symbols fit, but it’s not a good interpreation. For some reason, the myth of Wizard being an allegory for populism in the early 20th century has been perpetuated despite the true personal politics of L. Frank Baum. It’s a sign that anything can be read into anything.
Enter Andrew Klavan and his editorial about Toy Story 3 as a political message against the politics of the current Democratic Party. Director Lee Unkrich responded to the infantile shoehorning of something relevant into something entertaining by saying, “Really? REALLY? Please keep Toy Story 3 out of your politics,” which is the appropriate response as a creator.
Since I’m not the creator, I figured I’d have some fun with the idea and show how absurd Klavan’s article is by doing some shoehorning of my own. Here are three just-as-nonsensical interpretations of Toy Story 3.
Conservatives vs. Girly Men
The quick and dirty version of Klavan’s assessment is that the Big Baby, prissy Ken Doll, and Lotso (the adorably meglomaniacal teddy bear) represent the tyranny of the sunshiny Leftist ideal that is actually a dictatorship by illusion. They, of course, represent the feel-goodery of Hope and Change and Obama.
Woody and Buzz, the classic American symbols of strength or chaps or something are forced to fight back against that world in order to return to the arms of their beloved Andy (who represents the voting public).
That interpretation is missing a crucial element (besides having a lit Marlboro cigarette fighting alongside Woody and Buzz). It’s missing an ending.
In the end, Andy also disregards Woody and Buzz, leaving them behind in favor of college – a known bastion of liberal thinking. He also leaves behind his dinosaur – a symbol of Intelligent Design; his slinky dog – a clear metaphor for Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”; and his Mr. Potato Head – an obvious representation of President Gerald Ford.
Thus, the lesson of the film is to seek education and enlightenment, to think for yourself, and to give away those cowboys and astronauts of your youth in exchange for a more adult approach to living – an approach that involves beer bonging at 4am the morning of your Introduction to Western Philosophy final.
Lots o’ Huggin’ Bear Bryant
As if it couldn’t be any clearer, the entire film is a retrospective of the iron fist wielded by iconic coach Bear Bryant over his Alabama football team.
Andy’s “going off to college” is the key to this modern satire, as we learn that it’s really the toys he owns that will be heading to daycare (the toy equivalent of an institution of higher learning). When they arrive, they see the beauty of the campus, the promise of young love, and the start of a new life of freedom away from their parents. Unfortunately for Woody, Buzz and the gang (an amalgamation of the football players at Alabama during the mid-to-late 20th century), the entire program is led by a teddy bear (Bryant) who makes them do two-a-days three times a day.
They devise an escape, but contracts and scholarships (in the form of actual prison cells) keep them locked in to endure the uncaring physical torture inflicted upon them by the other teams (the children of the daycare). The stuffed bear might as well be wearing a houndstooth hat, but it’s a kid’s movie, so never mind.
The crew eventually escapes only to find themselves heading down a garbage incinerator – the ultimate representation of where their lives would be without college. Sadly for these players, they can either stick with the physicality of putting their bodies on the line for the chance at a better life, or see it all go down the chute.
The Tyranny of Children’s Movies
Pixar faces the uphill battle of making animated films, a genre that is viewed by most as “kiddie stuff.” They are asked constantly why they would put such mature material in children’s movies based on the assumption that they’re, in fact, making children’s movies.
Thus, the toys all locked up by the tyranny of Lotso actually represent Pixar itself.
Lotso is a classic symbol of the American childhood (and of President Theordore Roosevelt (an interpretative path you can head down on your own)). He is the warm greeting of the ideal of making animated features, but he ultimately proves to be a terrible taskmaster that sees animators both chained to their desks with long hours and years-long projects and the entire production crushed under the “Kiddie Movie” label while they want to be recognized for their grown-up appeal as well.
Woody is director Lee Unkrich, a man that shoots from the hip and wants to get Pixar out from the neutered public persona. Buzz represents the technology that Pixar has created in order to make their films. The rest of the toys are the Pixar gang, helping out in unique ways to create a great story but just as trapped inside the daycare (could there be a more apt symbol of oppression?).
They long to bust out into the world and beyond the realm of children. The complexity of their plan to escape represents over a decade of careful work to create a new cultural identity – a reality that hasn’t quite happened yet.
During the movie, the Pixar gang is handled by people of all ages. The mom who believes they are to be taken to the curb. The young adult ready to leave them behind. The small child who they are ultimately given to. This element represents two things. One, that all ages can appreciate Pixar. Two, that even though they want to escape from their immature label, they still love and adore younger audiences. Thus, where they find a new home.
The end of the film is their love letter to a hopeful future where, one day, audiences will stop thinking about Pixar films as children’s fare, and start seeing their films for what they really are – dramas and comedies to be enjoyed by all ages.
I wanted to write about Nazis simply because I had the title “The Third Trike” ready to roll, but Nazis seemed a bit extreme. Still, hopefully I’ve shown that elements in movies can be used for just about anything – including eye-rollingly moronic re-casting for political purposes.
There’s something especially insidious about using a great kid-friendly (and adult-friendly) movie to try to sell a political agenda. Sadly there are those in this world that would still abuse it for their own uses, and they are the same people that would claim that George W. Bush is Batman.
So, I choose to believe a different interpretation of Toy Story 3: that it’s a fantastic animated film with nothing to say about anything political that happened months after its release.
What do you think?