Reconsidering the Toy Story Movies as Horror

Geek Culture


Image © Disney / Pixar

[Note: This article contains no spoilers for Toy Story 3. It contains minor spoilers for the first two.]

As a great ghost Jedi philosopher once said, “[M]any of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” While he uses this fact as a (thin) defense against being called a liar, it is nonetheless accurate.

For an appropriate example, the Star Wars films have often been the subject of reinterpretation: it’s not difficult, for instance, to view the Empire as the good guys, trying to maintain order in the galaxy, and the rebels as the bad guys. I mean, look at how many innocent soldiers, techs, sentient droids, etc., the rebels must have killed by destroying the two Death Stars! It’s not as though the rank-and-file of the Empire’s troops had a choice about what they were doing — the bosses aren’t exactly forgiving.

So how is it that people keep missing the fact that the Toy Story movies are so obviously horror films? It can only be because the folks at Pixar twisted the stories so that the toy characters are more sympathetic than the humans, but surely the only reason any (presumably human) viewer of the movie would fall for that is because the human characters in the films don’t look any more realistic than the toy characters do.

Let’s look at the essential premise behind the movies: toys are not just objects made of plastic, wood and metal, but are actually sentient living creatures with feelings. Let me say that again slowly: The. Toys. Are. Alive. Yes, they all typically follow the rule that they can only move and talk when no human is watching or listening, but they don’t have to, as evidenced by the fact that Woody breaks the rule in the first film to scare Sid. And Sid is right to be scared, because if you look at this from a human point of view it’s absolutely terrifying.

Think about your last trip to Toys “R” Us. Did you walk down the doll aisles? The action figures aisles? Now try to imagine all those toys being alive, but simply dormant because of your presence. Suppose that a Joker action figure from the Batman section came to life — would he be content to follow the rules? Would he care more about being played with than being the Joker? Remember that it took a while for Buzz to comprehend that he wasn’t really a space ranger; would the Joker figure out that he’s not actually a psychopathic murderer?

Now consider if there were, say, a dozen Joker figures. Would the fact that their guns and explosives don’t work really slow them down for long? And Joker is just one example. Imagine, say, the High School Musical dolls coming to life — now that is scary.

As if that weren’t scary enough, think about how you played with your toys when you were a kid. Were you ever rough with your dolls and/or action figures? Ever pull them apart to see how their joints worked? Ever drop them off a shelf or toss them down the stairs? Ever have them do, er, romantic things with each other? Now imagine doing those things with living, feeling creatures. Not so great, is it?

Remember how Jessie felt in Toy Story 2, after her original owner outgrew her? Think about all the toys you had when you were a kid, and how you’d feel if you knew they all felt horrible because you stopped playing with them. Yes, either the toys are the monsters or you are, and either way it’s a horror story.

Now, don’t get me started on Snow White.

[Note from the author: I feel I should point out that I love the Toy Story films, and so do my kids. I just wanted to provide another way to look at them.]

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