Pass the Popcorn: Toy Story’s Got Metaphysics

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Toy Story 3 is at least as good as Toy Story 2. For a trilogy to go out as strongly as it came in is a remarkable feat in itself. For this trilogy to go out as strongly as it came in . . . words fail.

Spoiler alert – stop here if you haven’t seen the movie!

My hypothesis (which I’m still working on – comments are, as always, welcome) is that the main point is to extend the lesson from Toy Story 2 from the individual level to the socio-political level. If we draw a line between life in its material and spiritual aspects, the point of both movies is that the purpose of existence is in the spiritual aspect, which the material aspect exists to serve. Elevating the material aspect (survival) above the spiritual aspect (purpose) is dysfunctional. Toy Story 2 is about what happens to individual people when they prioritize survival over purpose. Toy Story 3 is about what happens to societies when those kinds of people are in charge. Anthropological materialism (“A toy is just a hunk of plastic. We’re all just junk heading for the dump!”) leads immediately to totalitarianism.


Remember, kids, Barbie sez: “The power of the state should be predicated on the consent of the governed, not the threat of force!”

The question I’m still wrestling with: does this theory make the child “owners” analogous to God? It is, after all, Andy’s personhood that constitutes the (wholly derivative) personhood and spiritual purpose of the toys. And Andy’s revealed will is to them a moral law – that, I think, is clearly implicit in everything Woody says and does in this movie. Even the very reasonable solution to the problem – the toys leave Andy for Bonnie – is accomplished not by an escape, but by persuading Andy to ordain it. A movie in which the toys escaped from the attic and made their way to Bonnie’s house would have had not just a different ending, but a completely different meaning.

2 Responses to Pass the Popcorn: Toy Story’s Got Metaphysics

  1. Brian says:

    “does this theory make the child “owners” analogous to God?”

    Yes, I think it does.

    Also, after reading your post, I couldn’t help but think that our old friend Smokey and the Teddy Bear in Toy Story had some commonalities. Specifically, they’re both questioning why they should obey/worship/respect an authority that deals out injustice. While in both stories these villains take things to despicable ends, the stories still fail to offer up much of an answer to this problem. Woody preaches blind worship of Andy…but it’s not clear that Andy deserves it. And Teddy’s path to materialism occurs because he was, in fact, treated like a hunk of plastic.

    Ok, ok, it’s just a cartoon.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    In a sense, that was the point of the first movie. To wit: get over your pretentions to judge your own place in the universe and learn to love what you were made for.

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