We all know that the Toy Story films are thinly disguised pieces of pro-imperialist, capitalist propaganda but what is often overlooked, due to their charm and general entertainment value, is their brazen attack on creativity and individual expression, particularly in the first of the three.
In the original 1995 film our two leads – personification of western pioneer spirit and glossed over genocidal history, Woody, and personification of Cold War, imperialist spirit, Buzz, are first pitted against each other due to Woody’s fear of replacement as patriarchal overlord of the toy slaves and loss of favour from their slave owner, Andy. Pretty soon Woody and Buzz realise they both share the same essential values and turn against the actual anti-hero of the film, Andy’s next door neighbour, Sid. A villainous, tooth braced, monster who dares to actually use his own imagination in creating the things he plays with.
Superficially the villain, Sid is actually the only character in the film who shows any sense of individual spirit and creative expression. While Andy uses his imagination in play it’s only ever within the confines of the creations delivered to him by corporate America (via manufacturing China). He would never dream of re-appropriating his toys to create something truly new. He is a perfect product of the West.
Sid on the other hand is stranded in the suburban neighbourhood Andy’s family is about to upscale away from. Neglected by his exhausted parents Sid seeks solace in creatively taking his toys and adapting them in new and unique ways.
His new creations are often aesthetically unpleasant but are nothing if not a creative expression of Sid’s inner turmoil.
It’s not as if artists have never sought to use the grotesque to express turmoil. Here’s Goya on war
And on time, devourer of all things
Here’s Bacon on Bacon
and here’s the Chapman Brothers on … something
If all you want in your art is Italians dancing on beaches and pithy ‘inspirational’ memes well this is largely your world and you can take solace in the fact that if Hitler had won the second world war this is exactly what he would’ve wanted.
But back to Sid, who I’m sure you’ll now agree is an artist on a par with some of the greatest in history. Yet he’s the villain here. Why?
Toy Story, being propaganda, wants us – more specifically wants our kids – to adopt an attitude of servility. It demands pacification and the acceptance of the status quo. Change is allowed (they move house, Andy gets new presents, he ages) but only within certain parameters dictated by biology, class and wealth.
Our two leads, once trapped inside Sid’s creative workspace (legitimately, it should be said. He pulled Buzz out of the machine in Pizza Planet fair and square) want nothing more than to return to their slave owner Andy. A theme repeated in all the films, most significantly in the third installment, in which the gang are desperate to return with their greatest expectation being abandonment in an attic – forever – with no longer even the hope of play. Buzz and Woody, both neutered, supposed ‘heroes’ (Woody has no ‘gun’ and Buzz’s ‘lazer’ doesn’t work), pervert Sid’s creations into rebelling against the artist so that they can return to a life of servitude with Andy.
It’s worth noting that, at this point, Woody is in fact hated by Andy’s other toys, who think, correctly, that he had violently tried to rid the bedroom of his new rival. It’s also worth noting that, once free, Buzz and Woody abandon Sid’s creations where, if he was to follow Woody’s advice, he would no doubt bin them and buy some My Little Ponies instead.
We whoop and holler as Buzz and Woody race back to their servitude all while their fellow slaves try and stop them and Andy has pretty much given up on them with a shrug. He doesn’t need to worry. He’ll just be bought a new toy and he’ll be happy again (something later explored in Part 3 in which the villain is aggrieved at being replaced by his former owner and, as a result, sets out to create a new world for himself).
At the conclusion, Buzz and Woody glide over the truck with the other toys to insert themselves into their owner’s car, to get closer to their slave master like good toy Funktionschäftling’s. Their reward? To nervously anticipate, each Birthday and Christmas, what new arrival will replace them in Andy’s heart. Cleverly maneuvering to discover who or what those new arrivals might be but impotent in the face of their fate.
And what of Sid, who no longer appears in the series beyond the original? He most likely spends his childhood having things bought for him at the yard-sales Andy’s family holds. New materials, I hope, for him to work his art. He’s less likely, trapped as he is in a system the film does nothing but laud, to reach college as Andy does in Part 3. Victim to his own circumstance, Sid is held down. No father Daedalus to build him wings (which is possibly just as well when you think of how that turned out).
But with his imagination, his ability to craft something new with the crumbs that fall to him it’s worth thinking that maybe he’s building something better. Something more worthwhile than a position and a place pre-arranged by the status he was born into. He’s taking the cards he’s been dealt and is inventing a new game. Perhaps it’s too much to think that Sid is flying into the future but if he’s managed to keep a hold of the creative spirit he’s ultimately demonised for it might not be too much to hope – to imagine – that he’s at least falling with style.
This video has nothing to do with Toy Story. It’s an old South Bank Show in which Melvyn Bragg gets wrecked with Francis Bacon. It’s very good.