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That Moment In ‘Toy Story’ (1995): The Value of Not Being a Flying Toy

Toy Story is a 1995 animated children’s film about a cowboy doll who is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.

By 1995, computer graphics were already becoming a mainstay in films, with a number of groundbreaking titles paving the way, with directors James Cameron and Steven Spielberg cinematic trailblazers. But it was Pixar’s Toy Story that would be the first full-length computer animated movie to hit theaters and prove that computer animation had more to offer than stunning realism to enhance blockbusters; they could be used to tell a complete story. While an entire industry cropped up in the wake of Toy Story, with Disney eventually partnering with Pixar and nearly every major studio splintering off their own computer animation departments, it’s always been this first that holds the most cherished memory for fans, a monumental achievement that made everything else possible.

THE STORY

For most of as a children, our toys were the center of our lives, we bonding with them in ways that have impact all through our lives. We believed they were real and gave them expansive worlds in which to live and play. For six-year-old Andy Davis (voiced by John Morris), that was no different, except when he puts his toys away, or even leaves the room, something remarkable happens. The toys are alive. Led by Woody (Tom Hanks), a pull-string cowboy doll, the group is a mishmash of popular kid’s collectables, and they live in his room with everything they need, a virtual playground paradise where they get to be played with by a real boy.

Toy Story
Toy Story, 1995 © Pixar Animation Studios

That all changes though on Andy’s birthday when he receives the latest hot toy on the market, a Buzz Lightyear action figure (Tim Allen), complete with laser lights and sound effects. The problem is, this toy doesn’t know it’s a toy, thinking it’s woken from suspended animation during spaceflight and landed on a strange alien planet. Woody, not convinced by Buzz’s behaviors, becomes jealous when it seems that Andy is preferring Buzz over him, and through a series of events, accidently pushes Buzz out of the second floor window. After Woody tries to rescue him, they end up with neighbor Sid (Erik von Detten), a deviant child who revels in torturing kid’s playthings. Now the two must work together to get back home.

THAT MOMENT IN

Sid’s room is a house of horrors, a collection of mistreated and horrify mutations of toys taped and stuck together as the boy plays mad scientist with his younger sister’s dolls, mixing them with his own stash of odd and ends. Grotesque creatures made of hairless baby doll heads and erector sets along with assorted parts of others are strewn about the room, leaving Buzz and Woody believing they’ve been brought into a nightmare. The larger problem though is that Buzz still thinks he’s a space ranger, no matter what Woody claims otherwise.

Toy Story
Toy Story, 1995 © Pixar Animation Studios

He makes his own efforts to escape the room and ends up sneaking into another room where a television is on, showing a commercial for none other than Buzz Lightyear action figures, the ad not only revealing that he is just like thousands of other toys, but in fact has no powers and *gasp* can’t fly, despite his impressive pop-out wings. This sends him spiralling into a deep state of depression and out of the room where he sees an open window at the top of the stairs, and decides he’s going to make one last effort to prove to himself and others that he is in fact a hero.

But alas, he simply sails to the stairwell landing and crashes, even losing an arm in the accident. Moment’s later, Sid’s sister arrives and scoops him up, taking him into her room where she has her own plans for the once formidable space adventurer. Darjeeling tea, anyone?

WHY IT MATTERS

It is the accepted vulnerability of any film action hero that ultimately makes them so endearing. Think of Superman himself, a man designed and defined by his superhuman powers, something we all wish we had and feel inspired by while in use. Yet it is inherently because of his weakness to Kryptonite that makes him so valuable to us. It deeply humanizes him and allows us to more identify with him even as we know he will always prevail. It’s the same mentality in other action film characters. Look at John McClane of the Die Hard franchise, a series that is losing its appeal primarily because it is stripping away that vulnerability and turning the once susceptible hero into an unstoppable, impervious machine. We want him to win, but we also want him to recognize the struggle it takes to overcome odds.

Toy Story
Toy Story, 1995 © Pixar Animation Studios

That’s why it’s so important for Buzz to face his own weakness. Imagine if the film allowed him to spend the entirety of the story convinced he was a real space ranger. By the film’s end, we would think him deranged and have far less empathy for his journey – and in fact, there would be no journey. It’s absolutely crucial that Buzz come to accept what he is, and by doing so, it makes the outcome of this story all the more impactful.

The film wonderfully handles this evolution, carrying Buzz through a number of important emotional stages that clearly paint his transformation from fantasy to reality. He explores this new truth, testing its voracity, ultimately ending up in a heap on the stairs, both physically and metaphorically broken in the process. It’s a symbol for the audience as well that from this moment on, the Buzz we knew is now ejected and ready to be rebuilt.

Toy Story
Toy Story, 1995 © Pixar Animation Studios

In Sid’s sister’s room, he is given a feminine role as Mrs. Nesbitt, a busy-body sharing afternoon conversation with other dolls, and explores this vastly-different identity, getting a little tipsy on make-believe tea. This wholesale rejection of the ‘space ranger’ persona for a stereotypical safe housewife identity – assigned to him by the little girl – is the moldable start of his metamorphosis, one that will take Woody’s help to see complete. He then remarks on his past, his “years of academy training wasted,” reflecting on something part of the imaginary backstory of his toyline. That will be the end of the fantasy and the first real steps to truth.

What follows is the film’s most important sequence, where Buzz sinks into a personal loss that puts him over the edge per se, giving up and welcoming the destructive end Sid has planned for him. Woody steps up and proves to him that a toy for a little boy has as much value as a defender of the universe, at an emotional cost Woody himself must come to terms with. This is where Toy Story earns its weight as one of the greatest children’s movies – computer animated or not – ever made. Buzz learning he is not a flying toy teaches us all that no matter our limitations, we are worthy just the same.

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